Sunday, 21 September 2008

The Republic - Plato

Three "minds"

Plato felt that there were three mental parts that corresponded to the three classes of his community (p153):

  1. instinctive mind
  2. passionate mind
  3. reasoning mind

This seems to possibly correlate to the three stages of cognitive development:

  1. The amygdala - reptilian brain
  2. The limbic mind - mammalian
  3. The frontal lobes - human


Plato was a strong believer in eugenics and selective breeding of humanity (p173-175)

"It follows from our conclusion so far that sex should preferably take place between men and women who are outstandingly good, and should occur as little as possible between men and women of a vastly inferior stamp. It also follows that the offspring of the first group shall be brought up, while the offspring of the second shouldn't."

"And the main privilege and reward that any young men who are good at fighting or at some other activity ought to receive is the right to sleep with the women more frequently, so that as many as possible of the children are fathered by this kind of person ..."

"A woman can serve the community by producing children between the ages of twenty and forty, and a man by fathering children from when he passes his peak as a runner until the age of fifty-five"

He proposed communal weddings and a lottery so that the rulers could keep this selection secret.

Realist Philosophers

He expalins why many believe that philosophers are either corrupt or useless [this is his regular dig at the sophists] by saying that they are either not recognised for the benefit they bring or that they are feable minds that are only trying to enter philosophy to cover the inadequacies of their other capacities [politicians should stay as politicians and not also try to be philosophers] (p210). He was urging was that thinking should be based on reality and not on an abstract theoretical view of the world as this did not serve any purpose.

Plato's Cave

This is a model of knowing and of education (p240). This describes the four stages of a process:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Thought
  3. Confidence/Belief
  4. Conjecture

Knowledge in this sense is perhaps now better described as information and thought as knowledge then confidence/belief is the models we construct and conjecture is how we apply it to novel situations. This is very much like the theory of experiential learning.

Education for Government

p246 519c-e

"... uneducated people, who have no experience of truth, would make incompetent administrators of a community, and the same is true for people who are allowed to spend their whole lives educating themselves ..."

Leader must rise to the top and see the "goodness" but then they must return back to their common-place lives and not seek to remian there. This is an essential part of democracy and the problem that power corrupts as few are prepared to step back again or to make decisions that do not favour themselves. This is the difference between statesmen and politicians and in "Brave New World" people like Mond take on the responsibility of deciding for the good of the community at the cost of their own freedoms.

Education of the philosopher kings is difficult (p270):

  • Wisdom need experience
  • New ideas need youth
  • Slavish learning kills inspiration

" '... an autonomous person should never learn in a slavish fashion,' I explained. 'It is true that if physical work is performed under compulsion, the body is not impaired, but compulsory intellectual work never remains in the mind.'"

Politics and Politicians p 283.

"You are talking about a political system which is a thorough mixture of good and bad," he remarked.

"Yes, it is a mixture," I agreed, "but thanks to the predominance of the passionate element, there is only one aspect which particularly stands out - all its competitiveness and ambition".

"Outside of the house, the young man hears and sees more of the same sort: he notices that people who mind their own business are regarded by the rest of the community as stupid and are despised, while those who don't are respected and admired. so, when the young man hears and sees all this, and also listens to what his father has to say, and sees his way of life from close quarters and compares it with the alternative, he is pulled in two directions: his father irrigates and nurtures his rational mind, while everyone else nurtures the desirous and passionate parts of his mind. Now, he isn't a bad person, but he has been exposed to some bad influences, ..." p285

"You have given a perfect description of an egalitarian," he said.

"Yes," I said," and I think he is also multi-hued and multi-faceted, as gorgeous and varied a patchwork as that community is. His way of life can be admired by many men and women, because he contains examples of so many political systems and walks of life." P301.

"Freedom," I replied. "I'm sure you've been in a community with a democratic government and heard then claim that there is nothing finer than freedom, and that this is why democracy is the only suitable government for a free man."

"Yes, one hears the claim repeatedly," he said.

"So, to complete the question I was about to ask a moment ago," I said, "is it insatiable greed for freedom and neglect of everything else which causes this political system to change and creates the need for dictatorship?"

"How would it do that?" he asked.

"In its thirst for freedom, a democratically governed community might get leaders who aren't any good at serving wine. It gets drunk on excessive quantities of undiluted freedom, and then, I suppose unless the rulers are very lenient and keep it provided with plenty of freedom, it accuses them of being foul oligarchs and punishes them."

"Yes," he agreed, "that's what it does."

"Then those who obey authority have abuse heaped upon them," I said, "and are described as voluntary slaves, nonentities; admiration and respect are given to people who, in both their private life and in public, behave like subjects if they're rulers; and behave like rulers if they're subjects. Isn't it inevitable that a community of this kind will take freedom as far as it can go?"

"Of course."

"Equally inevitably, my friend," I said, "lawlessness seeps into everyone's homes; ultimately, even animals are infected." P305.

On p355 Plato rails against the idea of necessary deceptions, later Walter Lippmann would use the opposite argument in a Preface to Morals where he is comparing the statesman to the politician. In the case of Plato it applies to artistic reality, which he considered an appalling deception but most artists including famous examples from Constable, Canaletto, Van Dyck and Carravagio manipulate the scenes to create the view that they want even if that is not a physical reality. Plato was opposed to all such retellings of reality.

On p359 Plato warns of the difficulties of controlling emotion and how this will perturb our objective view of the world. For this reason he spoke against poetry because it deforms reality which must be maintained. On p361 he goes so far as to ban the epic poets except in poetry praising the gods, and so he believed that reading Homer was bad for a reasoning community as this should not be taken as an example for our future conduct.

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