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As Socrates, Adeimantus, and Glaucon have slowly built, and rebuilt their city in search of justice, they have seemingly focused on how to protect it, and the qualities one would need to possess in order to protect it well and justly. Upon closer inspection, however, this idea seems to contradict itself as the guardians entrusted with this task of defending the city are stripped of their identities through the noble lie, and have their educations—and by extension—their freedom to philosophize, limited and under the control of their creators. The guardians’ existence parallels the transformations of the philosophical puppies to “strong, lean dogs”(4.422d), which displays the puppies exchanging their philosophical inclinations for the strength and power of the grown dogs. Yet, this transformation, and the controlled education to restructure this change raise the question of whether philosophy should be allowed to exist at all. For if a mind is given philosophical freedom is it just, or even possible, to restrain or renege that freedom?

Early in The Republic, Socrates introduces the idea that when a puppy “distinguishes a face as a friend or an enemy” either by welcoming it kindly or barking, it demonstrates “an appealing attribute of its nature, and one that’s philosophic in a true sense”(2.376b). Socrates and Glaucon then “have the confidence to posit for a human being too, that if [a guardian is] going to be at all gentle to his own people and those known to him, he needs to be by nature a lover of wisdom and of learning . . . [and that] a beautiful and good guardian of [the] city will be philosophic, spirited, quick, and strong by nature”(2.376c). The puppies indicate a philosophically ideal guardian, however, they lack the strength a guardian would need to effectively protect a city—a problem, which the conception of the noble lie attempts to remedy.

In all its good-intentioned grandeur, the noble lie proclaims to divide the city into divisions of labor to which each individual is best suited; to make this idea more palatable to the people, the citizens are put in a division of labor by the kind of metal in their soul. A guardian would have gold in his soul—and despite his parents’ individual labor classes—would be taken away to live in a specific environment and receive a specialized education. Through the noble lie, citizens are reduced in a manner that renders very few connections with one another, except for this idea of “being molded and cultivated” beneath the soil, and the notion of all “the citizens as their earthborn siblings”(3.414d-e). Through reshaping each individual identity into a collective identity through the concept of humanity, the noble lie purports to give the guardians “brethren” to protect. A second result of this maturation and the subsequent identity loss is the shrouding of the puppies, and young guardians, philosophical inclinations created by a false sense of courage. The noble lie gives the guardians a sense of power, as their new responsibilities demand it, but the rulers of the city also create it within the guardians to make them more suitable for their job. This new collective identity instills artificial bravery in the lost puppies, and by extension, the young guardians, so that “the dogs themselves try to do harm to the sheep, acting like wolves instead of dogs”(4.416a).

Yet Socrates is understandably hesitant to leave the guardians in that state, as with their philosophical views shrouded by power, they have nothing to help them distinguish friend from foe, and nothing to stop them from unjustifiably killing the citizens. It is here that the concept of constructing an appropriate education begins to play a role. Socrates asserts that a balance of the soul consists of three “‘forms in the soul, a reasoning one and a desiring one . . . [and a] third, spirited part, which is by nature an auxiliary to the reasoning part, unless it’s corrupted by a bad upbringing’”(4.441a). It is also said that “courage is a certain kind of preservation . . . [which must be kept] intact when one is in the midst of pains and pleasures and desires and terrors”(4.429c-d). For when a dog or guardian’s reasoning has been corrupted by a false sense of courage, these things are no longer innate as they were in the philosophical puppies. Their “upbringing” or rather growth and maturity, has blackened their philosophical reasoning until it can no longer be seen and effectively used. As Socrates has previously stated, the ability to make the distinction between friends and enemies is crucial to guarding the city, however, this ability lies in “the fact that [a guardian] has learned the one, and is ignorant of the other. And indeed, how could [one] not be a lover of learning when it determines what’s its own and what’s alien to it by means of understanding and ignorance”(2.376b). Yet, the current guardian must be educated in order to achieve this—an education, which the city plans to undertake through gymnastics and music—however, they want to limit the amount of philosophy and wisdom a guardian possesses in order to maintain order and consistency among the collective state of the guardians. In theory, the combination of gymnastics and music should walk the line between “brutality and hardness, and in the other case to softness and tameness”(3.410d). Yet, music would coincide with philosophy and thought, both of which fester and grow and eventually hinder a man’s ability to take concrete, disciplinary action.

This standing idea of Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus’ ideal education must be bounded, for absolute freedom would put the collective security of the city at risk. In turn, this limits the amount of philosophy allowed to flow freely about the city—a restriction, which is undeniably difficult, if not impossible. The guardians will only be given a taste of philosophy; yet, it is only enough to allow them to make the necessary distinction between a friend and an enemy. Philosophy, however, cannot be bounded and controlled like the rest of the guardian’s education; once the philosophical seed is cultivated, a mind continues to press boundaries, until it succumbs to the desire to act on them, which is inarguably the city’s greatest fear. If the guardian’s courage does succumb to the desires to continue to philosophize, then the soul remains incomplete and unbalanced, and thus negates almost all the effort Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus exerted to create them. Furthermore, in a city searching for justice, it seems odd to place such an unjust trial—merely because of its impossibility—on individuals involved in the collective guardianship. As is stands, the only just action would be to allow unrestricted philosophizing to take place in the city, or eliminate it from the city and the educations entirely, both of which are detrimental to the city’s—and more specifically the guardian’s—success. For it seems as if Socrates’ notion of the philosophical puppy extends much farther than the simple vision of a dog; not only does it parallel the transformation of the guardians, but also the state of philosophy and justice within the city.

20 Responses to “Cultivating Injustice in the Philosophical Mind”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Kendall,

    This is a thoughtful attempt to wrestle with the question of philosophy within the best city.

    It is important to recognize (as you do) that the lie is noble or medicinal because it concerns the origins of the citizens. It does not seem to be a lie that there are natural differences between people; that principle grounds the entire city (rather than justice, which is a point that is often missed or misunderstood). Rather, the lie seems to be something that will make an account of natural differences palatable, along with the consequences of it (the disruption of the family, etc.).

    What exactly “philosophy” means in the Republic is far from clear. Though philosophy was mentioned earlier, along with the puppies / dogs, it makes its real entrance in Book 5. Why does philosophy need to come in at this precise point? That is not an idle question.

    Much, perhaps too much, is made of the fact that Plato’s account of poetry might preclude his own work from being allowed in the best city (assuming that account is meant literally and seriously). But not enough is made of the fact that the counterpart account of philosophy might preclude Socrates. There are certainly no non-Platonic philosophers in the best city, which makes one wonder what exactly philosophy means in that context. A dogmatic idealism on the part of the true guardians?

    Keep in mind your questions about the nature of philosophy in the Republic, as I have a feeling that they will only become exacerbated as we keep reading.

    KH

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