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Lindsey Pelland

Professor Honeycutt

Roots of Western Thought

May 13, 2014

 

What is it with couches and tables?

In Books II and X of Plato’s Republic couches and tables are specifically used as examples. These items are used specifically and intently as examples in the feverish city and of imitation. It seems as though there is something about these two items in particular that represent something to Socrates, or else he would not have used them.

In Book II, Socrates and his companions have established what they call a “healthy city” (372 E). The healthy city is one almost entirely devoid of any type of material luxury. Glaucon first mentions bringing couches into the city and as soon as he does so Socrates says “We’re examining, it seems, not just how a city comes into being, but a city that lives in luxury” (372 E). Socrates immediately places couches into the category of luxury, an aspect of the feverish city.

Couches and tables are the first things to be added to the healthy city to transform it into the infected one (373 A). After these things are added along with other assorted luxuries the city is forced to expand. There must be room for those who create all of these things.  Perhaps this is a reflection of Socrates thoughts on those who create things and the creation of imitations.

In Book X Socrates it has been established that imitation corrupts, yet what exactly imitation is has yet to be more fully explained. So to start off his comparison, Socrates uses couches and tables. He states “there are two looks to these artifacts, one for a couch and one for a table” (596 B). Socrates goes on to explain “it’s with his eye on the look of either artifact that a craftsman makes couches in one case and tables in the other…presumably none of the craftsmen craft the look itself” (596 B). A craftsman creates things but he is only able to create imitations. It seems as though Socrates is implying that it is impossible to take the look of a thing and bring it to being in the material world in a truthful way. The look of a thing is a singular thought or idea that cannot be recreated exactly.

Socrates goes on to discuss appearances and the way that a painter creates only the appearance of what he has painted. This is connected to couches because as Socrates says, “ if he doesn’t make the one that is a couch, he wouldn’t be making something that is, would he, but something that’s like a thing that is without being that?” (597 A).  Couches are merely objects that appear to be something that they are not. This implies that all material objects are appearances of things that they are not. If something appears to be what it is not than it cannot be considered the truth. Therefore it is a lie. Using this logic it would seem that all material objects and indeed especially couches and tables are lies.

Philosophers seek the truth and since lies are in direct opposition to the truth it makes sense as to why the feverish city is so sick. How could a Philosopher seek the truth in a city filled with imitations and lies? Luxury is filled with imitations and therefore luxury seems to be the materialization of untruths. Couches and tables are simply the beginnings of luxury and the beginnings of lies.

Couches and tables represent the beginnings of luxury, which is the collection of imitations. Imitations are not the truth and a Philosopher seeks only the truth. Living in a city of imitations would only cloud the philosopher’s view of the truth, making the city unhealthy. Socrates uses the images of couches and tables because they are seen everywhere by everyone and most would not even consider them a luxury, but Socrates makes it very clear that they are.

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