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The Myth of Er in Book X of the Republic talks about the rewards and consequences of living a just or unjust life. Though it seems to differ throughout the Republic, life, at least in Book X, seems to based entirely on choice. Not only does life seem to be based on choice, the rewards and consequences one gets after their judgment is too. This means that there is the possibility that someone who has been punished upon his first judgement will continue to make poor life choices and that someone who has been rewarded in his first judgement can choose to become tyrannical. Also, this system does not account for the fact that there are people that don’t believe in an afterlife. This would be problematic, as those people wouldn’t care what consequences their actions in life would have.  As if those things weren’t enough, there is also the problem of rewarding people for living a just life, which in itself seems to defeat the purpose of teaching people to be just in the first place.

First, it is important to notice that Er is part of the Pamphylian race. This is significant since it seems that Socrates would be appealing to an Athenian mindset, but he tells the story of some one who is of “every tribe” according to footnote 191.  Though it would be logical to think Socrates is thinking as an Athenian, there isn’t much to support that, given that the setting is the Piraeus in the home of a foreigner (according to footnote 1).  This is also supported by the fact that Er is killed during war, where the bodies of members of different tribes would lay together, and we are told that “when the soul went out of him,he said, it traveled with many others” (614C).  It is never made clear if these people all believe in the same thing, in fact, the information we are given suggests that they are not of the same beliefs, “souls,creatures of a day, at the beginning of another death-bearing cycle for a mortal race, no guardian deity will be assigned to you by lot; you will choose a guardian deity” (617D-E).   The system of rewards and consequences proposed in the Myth of Er would only work properly if the people that were under that system were of the same beliefs, mainly a belief in the afterlife.

Next, if a person that didn’t believe in the afterlife were to show up in this system, the punishments or rewards they received would only be with them temporarily, as after picking lots, they made camp by the river of Heedlessness, “ it was necessary for them all to drink a certain amount of the water, and those who were not saved from it by good sense drank more than that amount, but in each case, the one who drank from it forgot everything” (621A-B).  So the person that doesn’t believe in the afterlife won’t care what he does in his life on Earth because the likelihood that he’ll have any kind of lasting consequences is slim.  Not only does the person that doesn’t believe in the afterlife get no benefit from the rewards and consequences system, neither does the group of people that do believe in the afterlife.  Though this system is supposed to be based in choice and free will, no one remembers that once they are placed back in human form, nor do they remember the consequences or rewards for their actions.

The final problem with this system has less to do with the execution than it does with the actual idea behind the system. A rewards and consequences system sounds great as the people that live well benefit and those that don’t live well do not. However, given that one of the main issues in the Republic has been what justice was, this system seems to negate that since it seems a bit too much like bribery.  The point is that one should be able to practice justice without it being incentivised because if they truly know what justice was, they would practice it without having incentive, to the point that it would seem like it was natural to do so.

As we can see there are several issues within the Myth of Er, particularly in the system of rewards and consequences that make up the judgement.  Though this system seems to be ideal, when one is attentive, he notices the details that could be problematic with this system, particularly when it comes to things that it takes for granted, like a shared set of beliefs throughout Athens or even Greece as a whole.

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