Philosophers in the "Republic": Plato's Two Paradigms
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In Plato's Republic, Socrates contends that philosophers make the best rulers because only they behold with their mind's eye the eternal and purely intelligible Forms of the Just, the Noble, and the Good. When, in addition, these men and women are endowed with a vast array of moral, intellectual, and personal virtues and are appropriately educated, surely no one could doubt the wisdom of entrusting to them the governance of cities. Although it is widely―and reasonably―assumed that all the Republic’s philosophers are the same, Roslyn Weiss argues in this boldly original book that the Republic actually contains two distinct and irreconcilable portrayals of the philosopher.
According to Weiss, Plato’s two paradigms of the philosopher are the "philosopher by nature" and the "philosopher by design." Philosophers by design, as the allegory of the Cave vividly shows, must be forcibly dragged from the material world of pleasure to the sublime realm of the intellect, and from there back down again to the “Cave” to rule the beautiful city envisioned by Socrates and his interlocutors. Yet philosophers by nature, described earlier in the Republic, are distinguished by their natural yearning to encounter the transcendent realm of pure Forms, as well as by a willingness to serve others―at least under appropriate circumstances. In contrast to both sets of philosophers stands Socrates, who represents a third paradigm, one, however, that is no more than hinted at in the Republic. As a man who not only loves “what is” but is also utterly devoted to the justice of others―even at great personal cost―Socrates surpasses both the philosophers by design and the philosophers by nature. By shedding light on an aspect of the Republic that has escaped notice, Weiss’s new interpretation will challenge Plato scholars to revisit their assumptions about Plato’s moral and political philosophy.
resolve the apparent conflict without denying that the shipowner represents the people. He contends that when Socrates addresses the matter of the philosophers’ uselessness, he calls the people noble because it is not they but the politicians who are to blame, but when he addresses the philosophers’ viciousness, he refrains from calling the people noble because in that case they are to blame. It is likely, however, that there is no real inconsistency (or even tension) here: if the shipowner in
pollo¯n). More rare are people with philosophic natures (476b, 491b, 495b). Decent but useless philosophers are rarer still. Extremely rare is the fourth philosophic type consisting of philosophers who are also warriors (503b). Not only are there few fine minds—even in Book 4, the class of the wise was designated the smallest in the city (428e)—but the combination of fine minds and the qualities of a warrior is quite exceptional. 42. Compare the “great soul” (megale¯ psuche¯) of Book 6’s
moderation, and although the true philosopher is no warrior, Socrates knows he cannot be 17. For Glaucon, things that are painful but beneficial count as good things (357c); these are the very things that Socrates in the Gorgias calls bad (467c-e). And pleasures that are harmless are considered good things as well. The things that Glaucon thinks aren’t good, then, are (1) harmful pleasures and (2) unpleasant things that provide no benefit. 18. Strauss (1964, 65), relying to some extent on
come to regard themselves as morally obligated to rule because they see ruling as required by justice. And Socrates seems to think they need an incentive to rule, something to compel them. Nor is there any indication that it is important to the philosophers of Rep. 7 that anyone else be just. Yet, in his conversation with Polemarchus about justice in Book 1 (335b-335e) Socrates argues in effect—although he doesn’t say so explicitly—that it is the business of justice and the just man 56. The
moderation have come to light, it is the power that gives rise to the others and sustains them once they have come into being (433b).42 Not only does Socrates offer no support for this improbable claim but, having made justice the necessary condition of the other virtues’ coming into being and persevering, he actually pretends to wonder—as if there can now be any question about it—which of the virtues is the most valuable to the city. Can there be any doubt that the virtue that gives rise to and