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Finding the Founders

In Book VII, Socrates considers how to raise and educate the future kings of the city. The making of the philosopher-king and consecutively the city appears to start at the moment a man is released from his bonds in the cave. He is then dragged out of the cave to see the sun and finally grasps the truth of what is. Earlier in The Republic, the sun was established as the offspring of the good and is the best way of studying the idea of the good. The sun “provides what is seen with the power of being seen, but also with generation, growth, and nourishment” and marks the point at which the man has become a true philosopher (509b). Now that the man has seen the sun, his job is to return to the city and rule over those who are not fortunate enough to escape the intellectual cave themselves. What is very interesting is the suggestion that someone or some people are responsible for releasing the man from his physical and intellectual bonds in the first place and that these people govern the city alongside the new philosopher-king. Who are these men, and what is their purpose?

             From the cave allegory, we learn that a man in the cave is released from his bonds, compelled to look at the light itself, and then dragged into the sunlight against his will. The language suggests that someone or certain people, not directly named within the metaphor, are the catalysts to this philosophical ascent. Socrates brings up two things that suggest that a more intelligent and powerful being, separate from the cave people, guides and forces the man towards the truth outside the cave. This figure plays a similar role to that of the serpent which spurs Eve to taste the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Book of Genesis. Socrates mentions that someone speaks to the man shortly after he is released and tells “him that before he saw silly nothings, while now, because his is somewhat nearer to what is and more turned towards beings, he sees more correctly” (515d). The figure speaking appears to have knowledge of the cave-dweller’s dilemma, suggesting a sort of omniscience. This figure also appears to be aware of the world outside of the cave since this figure is the same person who “dragged him [the cave-dweller] away from there by force along the rough, steep, upward way and didn’t let him go before he had dragged him out into the light of the sun” (515e). If being in the light of the sun makes you know the truth, then it can be assumed that this figure is a philosopher himself because he has seen the sun and because he knows the way out of the cave. By dragging the man from its depths, it is suggested that it takes an established philosopher to bring about new philosophers because the man would not have sought the source of the light on his own.

Two things that have not been directly addressed by Socrates are who this philosopher actually is and what role he plays. Because this figure is not mentioned to have been either a prisoner or a puppet-handler, we have to concede that this someone is separate from the cave people but still related to the creation of the city. We can assume that this figure is indeed a true philosopher because Socrates says later in Book VII that the creation of the city appears to only be possible “when the true philosophers, either one or more, come to power in a city… while taking what is just as the greatest and the most necessary, and serving and fostering it, they will provide for their own city” (540d-e). This figure in definition appears to be the founder of the city by Socrates calling it the philosopher’s “own”. In addition, it seems that Socrates considers himself and the other men assembled to be these founders. He exclaims that “our job as founders… is to compel the best natures to go to the study which we were saying before is the greatest, to see the good and to go up that ascent” (519c-d). From this, we see that Socrates has finally established that the figure in the cave allegory and the founders of the city are one in the same.

The art of the founders must be understood before the city can come into being. The founders seem to be responsible for many things including the selection, guidance, and education of the philosopher-kings. However, all of these tasks have to collectively fall under one art in order to maintain justice. Therefore, Socrates claims that they practice “an art of this turning around, concerned with the way in which this power can most easily and efficiently be turned around, not an art of producing sight in it” (518d). Going by the cave allegory, one of the duties that falls under this art seems to be releasing a chosen man from among the cave dwellers and ushering him toward the light. The founders have to find the best natured souls to become the kings, those with “that facility at learning memory, courage and magnificence [which] belong to this nature” (494b). Socrates reveals their other duty is to make sure that the philosopher-kings return back to the cave and “not to permit them what is now permitted… to remain there and not be willing to go down again among those prisoners” (519d). Socrates continues to explain that the founders will “say just things to them while compelling them besides to care for and guard the others” ( 520a). The founders alongside the philosopher-kings will help govern and protect the city from them on.

From Book VII, we see who the figure from the cave is and how he contributes to the formation and continuation of the city. As neither a prisoner nor a puppeteer, he does not appear to be a member of the city, but he is instead only a guiding and supervising force. In the cave allegory, he serves as the mysterious figure that “compelled him [the freed man] to look at the light itself” and then drags this chosen man into the sunlight (515e). He is also serves as a policing force that ensures the newly formed philosopher returns to the cave to guard and enlighten the others. As the founder, he is ultimately responsible for the art of turning men around to see the light and know the truth themselves.

20 Responses to “Finding the Founders”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    This is one of the key issues of the book, it seems to me. Who is going to release the first person from the cave? It is hinted that this may be a person from outside the cave, i.e. outside that society. I think Rousseau picks up on this hint when he suggests in the Social Contract that the lawgiver/legislator/founder of a society must come from outside that society. The lawgiver must know what is best for the society but cannot be of that society. Maybe Rousseau thus holds the key to unlocking the Republic. (We should keep this in mind as we finish Emile. What is Emile being educated for?)

    At any rate, the passage at 581d is crucial. If there is an “art of turning around,” is this a new art? If so, the suggestion is that the founders are precisely not philosopher kings as they have been outlined. The art of turning around would be distinct from the art of ruling, one would think.

    I think you are absolutely right to key in on the fact that Socrates says “our role as founders.” At least one interpreter thinks that the fourth city being found in 5-7 is actually internal, i.e. a new kind of soul. And that Socrates is somehow forming this in the souls of Glaucon and/or Adeimantus. But Socrates suggests by his language (if we can take it at face value, which is always the question with him) that the founding role is plural. Maybe somehow G. and A. are his auxiliaries, then? But then S. wouldn’t be the ruler. It’s hard to see how to sort it all out.

    Surely part of the answer has to be that any genuine sense of philosophy–that is, philosophy in which the conventions of the city are questioned–is excluded from the city which they construct. The philosopher kings/queens are precisely not interested in undermining the city but rather in preserving it. This means, though, that on the Platonic model they aren’t really philosophers, it seems to me; they are ideologues or Platonic dogmatists at best (and this actually happened within the Academy itself after Plato’s death: for some of his students, Plato’s philosophy became THE philosophy). The unsettling suggestion (unsettling for a philosopher at any rate) here is that philosophy is thus excluded from the well-ordered soul. It has often been said that, for Socrates, to inquire into the best way of life is the best way of life. But the suggestion in the Republic is perhaps that to NOT inquire into the best way of life is in the end the best way of life–provided we find the answer to what is best previously. At any rate, what that means is that wisdom, and not the love of wisdom, is the endpoint. And that seems decidedly un-Socratic, unless Socratic ignorance is indeed a thoroughly ironic stance, in which case Socrates is in fact wise or an enlightened sage (this is how the Stoics saw him, for what it is worth, as best as I can tell).

    So maybe all that stuff earlier about “true philosophers” actually has to do now with what we are calling “founders” rather than “guardians?” We changed the name for the second class from “guardians” to “auxiliaries,” after all; maybe there is a similar shift in terminology for the rulers of the best/beautiful city?

    KH

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