Adjectives on the Typewriter

she moves her words like a prizefighter

18 April 2005

Supreme Reason

Once again I return to the blog with nothing important to say. I'm sitting with the sliding door wide open, watching the furies of the rain from the shelter of the basement. You know it's wierd-- sometimes I like rain and sometimes I don't.

But on to deeper things...

In discussion group on Thursday we talked about the practical application of Plato's division of the Soul. In the Republic he says that the state is basically made up of three types of people. The first group is "golden" in nature- these people are well disciplined and live through Reason. Though rare, Plato claims they should be the elite governing class, the Philosopher-Kings as it were. And, as rational thinkers, these individuals are completely selfless, reaping no physical reward for their labors. The next group is the "silver." They are ruled by Spirit and will power and are destined to carry out the commands of the Philosopher-Kings. This group is slightly larger and is responsible for military measures and the like. The final class is by far the largest: the iron/brass people who are governed by their fleshly desires or appetites. This group simply submits to the Philosopher-Kings and is allowed to engage in pleasure constantly.

I think this breakdown, though slightly oversimplified, is generally true. However, my philosophy professor insists that this system is "disturbing" because it discounts the value of inherent human rights. Now this professor is not the typical thoughtless liberal you encounter on campus; he has a lot of good sense and I've come to respect him a great deal. But I just don't get what's so "uncanny" about intelligent, rational people governing the rest of us. Obviously, power has the ability to corrupt, but that doesn't mean it has to. If these Philosopher-Kings are truly rational and selfless, they'll be able to resist the temptations power has. Besides, they're not supposed to be paid. So while there may be a few odd exceptions, overall I think this sort of aristocracy is safe, not to mention beneficial.

Perhaps I ought to read the Republic myself before I say anything too ignorant. After all, even Plato thought the system would require the Philosopher-Kings to lie to the "masses"...



Blogger marrie said...

It sounds like a nice ideal, but we do not live in an ideal world. The first day of my social and political philosophy class a long, long time ago, our professor had us split up into groups and come up with "ideal" societies. When we all presented our societies they all turned out to be some form of communism or socialism, but in my opinion, these forms of government haven't worked. The trouble I see is that those selfless "gold" rational thinkers are few and far between, and how is it determined who meets those standards? How are they paid? Do they have other jobs? What about self-improvement? If the iron/brass people are simply governed by fleshly desires are they encouraged to grow or just accepted for what they are? I find it hard to just accept that someone else is intelligent and rational therefore I should just do what they say. Not to mention, I was raised Christian and I was taught that No Man other than Jesus is capable of perfection, and that makes me question how selfless the Philosopher-Kings could possibly be. I shouldn't talk though, I haven't read it either, and I dont even have a teacher explaining it to me, so maybe you're right. Thanks for the comment on my blog the other day!

April 18, 2005 at 8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly. Look at the early church-- it was almost communistic.

April 18, 2005 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger em²ile² said...

But thinking teleologically here, you're never going to get anywhere (significant) if you're not striving toward something higher, which in the end will be perfection. I'm not saying Plato's meritocracy needs to be implemented in our society- I don't have the wisdom to make so weighty of judgements. My point is that I don't see what's so scary or "uncanny" about his ideal Republic. It seems very logical to me personally. Of course it has its flaws, as does any human system, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it's detrimental or disturbing.

Marrie, thanks for your thoughts and glad to know you're also a Christian :)

Anonymous (but not TNO), do you have a name?

April 19, 2005 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger marrie said...

I think we should always strive to be better, but what motivation would the iron/brass people have to be better? It seems like all the responsibility would be taken from them and they'd have nothing to work toward, other than hedonistic pleasures of the flesh.
If only we did live in a more ideal world and people were more ideal...

April 19, 2005 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger em²ile² said...

Solid point in reference to the iron-brass people. Plato's got to have his errors too. Personally, I would have them all be schooled (as children) under the Philosopher-Kings who could then discern who would be appropriate to what station in the society. That way even people of iron-brass heritage could become either Guardians (spirited group) or even Philosopher-Kings. Also, under the control of Reason, the "lower" level wouldn't always engage in hedonistic pleasures- they'd be regulated or monitered by the Philosopher-Kings (who's job is exactly that: to guard the more childlike appetites).

April 19, 2005 at 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must remember that C.S. Lewis talked about the types of sin and the two parts of human nature: the diabolical and the animal. The pleasures of the flesh are animal sins, while the desire for power, manipulation, breaking oaths, and witchcraft are diabolical sins. So, the hedonistic sins of the iron-brass people are not as bad as the manipulations and power-thirst of the Philosopher-Kings (assuming, of course, that they are not perfect).
As a second point, knowledge is power, and power corrupts. So, teaching the children does not necessarily remove their tendency to sin -- it just magnifies the sin's effect. Knowledge is not perfection.

May 27, 2005 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger em²ile² said...

1) Knowledge is not necessarily power- if it were, the world would be rul;ed by smart people, which it generally is not.

2) Power does not always corrupt. You're bad with the genralizations today.

Anyway good point about "teaching the children does not necessarily remove their tendency to sin."

May 27, 2005 at 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only time that power does not corrupt is when the person in power can look forward to putting on the incorruptible (and sometimes, not even then).

Second, there are many different kinds of "smart".


May 31, 2005 at 10:33 AM  

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