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Four virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation and justice, are considered necessary to compose a “perfectly good” (4.427e) city. At first glace, one would believe that because these four virtues are required to found a functioning city, one would think that these virtues all agree with each other and can be synchronized together to form a successful city. However, if evaluated more closely, one can find that these four virtues are less agreeable then they seem. In fact, it appears that within these four different virtues, there lie two sets of opposites.
Wisdom is said to be “of good counsel” (4.428b), and therefore a kind of knowledge in itself. Wisdom is not a good counsel of specific things, such as the mastery of a type of craft, but rather counsels how the city as a whole would work best. The perfect guardians of the city, the ruling class, who are by nature the smallest group, hold this particular virtue. Although wisdom is confined to the smallest group in the city, it appears to deal with the most general concept, the functionality of the entire city.
Courage is defined as a “kind of preserving” (4.429c). It preserves the opinion about what is right and wrong, so that what is lawful and what is not are always made clear and upheld throughout the city. The virtue of courage is found in the auxiliary class, held by the soldiers who protect the city. However, unlike wisdom, education is required for the structure of courage, and without education, the formation of right opinion must be called something else; Glaucon says “For, in my opinion, you regard the right opinion about these same things that comes to be without education-that found in beasts and slaves-as not at all lawful and call it something other than courage” (4.430b). It is here that one can see the first argument for the virtues of wisdom and courage being opposites of each other.
Wisdom is a type of knowledge that has always been held by the perfect guardians. It is what separates this class from all the others, and has not developed within the ruling class overtime, but rather, wisdom is a skill that is simply found in the perfect guardians, with no clear explanation of how it was derived. Courage on the other hand, is formed through the education of the warriors, and was not originally there to begin with. The second argument for the two virtues’ opposition is the very different goals the two virtues focus on. Wisdom focuses on how the city can function best. There is a sense of improvement and moving forward in this virtue. Courage, however, is focused on maintaining the current order of the city and preserving and upholding its laws.
Moderation is described as “a kind of accord and harmony” (4.430e) and is a “certain kind of order and mastery of certain kinds of pleasures and desires” (4.430e). This virtue makes sure that the better rules over the worse and keeps individuals’ desires in check. Although moderation is stronger in the ruling class, it is found throughout the city, in every class. It is through moderation that everybody in the city “sings the same chant together “(4.432a).
Justice, like moderation, is an all-encompassing virtue that flows throughout the city. It is seen as the groundwork for the city, in which all else was founded on. Justice is defined as “the minding of one’s own business and not being a busybody”(4.433b). Justice powers and maintains all the other virtues and keeps the three classes separate and distinct. It is that which makes sure a craftsmen does not wander into the auxiliary class and a warrior does not attempt to become a ruler, “the having and doing of one’s own and what belongs to oneself would be agreed to be justice” (4.434a). Justice gives each man his own, nothing more and nothing less.
One can argue that moderation and justice are two virtues opposite of each other because of how differently they function in the city. Moderation is focused on harmonizing the city, making sure everybody in every class works together and complete tasks smoothly. Justice appears to be focused on an entirely different goal- the minding of one’s business, keeping classes separate so there is no challenge to the order of the city. A second reason the two virtues can be seen contrary to each other is the time in which each virtue is established in the city. Justice has always been there and is that which the city has grown and flourished upon. Moderation develops overtime to weave the city’s different parts together to create a unanimous whole.
There is clearly tension between these two sets of virtues that are said to be present in the city. However, the two sets can be linked together as well. Both wisdom and courage remain in specific classes, and are not attainable by all members of the city. There is a line that can obviously be drawn connecting these two virtues to a specific, corresponding class. This is not the case for moderation and justice, which both can be found throughout the entire city, and cannot be singled out as a representation of an explicit class. The four virtues together form something resembling a Rubik’s Cube that can be solved only through the proper implementation of each individual virtue, resulting in a “perfectly good” city.

20 Responses to “4 Virtues, 2 Sets of Opposites”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    I think we have extended your analysis in the class discussion but for the most part what you say here rings true with what we seemed to conclude as a group. I think you are right to suggest that there seems some kind of breaking point between wisdom and courage on the one hand; and moderation and justice on the other. As you correctly note, moderation and justice extend throughout the city/soul; the other two do not.

    I think it is probably too strong to say that wisdom and courage are opposites (ditto for moderation and justice). However, you say “tension” later in the essay and that seems closer to the truth. So fair enough. It isn’t so much that the virtues oppose each other, perhaps, as they are simply different in important ways.

    You make a good point re: the absence of any deep explanation of how wisdom emerges. I think you are right to suggest (1) that courage is the result of education; and (2) that both moderation and justice seem to be the result (or perhaps even the condition) of some larger state of affairs obtaining. But what about wisdom? It’s not clear how it emerges. Perhaps 5-7 have something to do with this, e.g., the difference between knowledge and opinion on the divided line.

    One thing to keep in mind as we finish 7 is whether this whole proposal is possible, much less desirable. If philosopher-kings fail on either account, then it seems that wisdom as a virtue fails somehow to occur.

    KH

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