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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.

Machiavelli’s Virtue

Virtue in the Art of War is a an interesting concept for the military. Machiavelli draws on ancient influences to develop his working definition of what virtue should mean for the prince and how it should be used towards his society and forces. In this paper I will also look at some of Machiavelli’s claims in response to antiquity and from the Prince and the Discourses on Livy that complement his theories discussed in the Art of War. To understand his claims made in the Art of War I will also look at how virtue relates to infantry and cavalry respectively.

In antiquity, there was a different understanding of virtue. For example, Aristotle saw virtue as a mean between a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency (EN 1108b-1109b). In the Art of War, Machiavelli initially seems to agree to the extent that one should bring men into the military through “a middle way where there is neither complete force nor complete willingness” (I.167). However, the key difference in Machiavelli’s definition of virtue is considering the difference between the terms mean and middle way. Machiavelli understands that there are instances where a prince would have to use either vice that Aristotle describes instead of just holding to the mean of between the two. In his work, the Prince, he argues that it is important for a prince to appear virtuous rather than be virtuous (P 18.70). However, his theory on virtue does hold in the three works, that a prince should know both a middle way and the vices.

Machiavelli’s virtue seems to involve a certain amount of conscious deception that can potentially lead a society towards corruption if the prince does not use it well. Machiavelli brings up the point that when virtue is corrupt it is hard to maintain a state and provide the opportunity for the society to be recovered. He discusses the case of Rome in Book Two of the Art of War, by saying that “the Scythian peoples were able to come to prey upon the empire that had extinguished the virtue of the others and did not know how to maintain its own” (II.304). The use of one’s own arms is a very key point to attaining virtue for Machiavelli. In the Prince, Machiavelli argues that a prince who relies on his own arms is the most esteemed (P 13.55) because he does not rely on others. Therefore, his claim from the Rome example is meant to capitalize on not only being without the aid of others but also being able to use one’s own arms well. When this cannot be accomplished it seems as though Machiavelli is arguing that this is an instance of corruption in the state.

In contrast to this corruption, in the Discourses on Livy Machiavelli proposes the idea of mountain men who are without society. He argues that establishing a society in his present times would be “easier among mountain men, where there is no civilization, than among those who are used to living in cities, where civilization is corrupt” (D I.11.35).  In the case of Rome that he discusses in Book Two of the Art of War, he brings up the idea of barbarians in a similar manner by saying that “although that empire was then divided in several parts through the inundation of these barbarians, this virtue was not reborn there” (II.305). Therefore, in this case it seems as though the corruption is such that even the introduction of those who are without a city cannot influence the society’s virtue towards the good.

The term barbarian was key for Aristotle. He defined them as those individuals who are not active towards an end in the city (Pol. 1252b). However, the barbarians that Aristotle discussed had the potential to be perfected by politics. In contrast, Machiavelli argues that political society corrupts his mountain men. Aristotle does make an important point on barbarians, by asserting that they do not distinguish between the female and the slave, as nature does (Pol. 1252b), and therefore they create dysfunctional familial relationships which are the initial unit for political society. This claim supports Machiavelli’s assertion that the introduction of barbarians did not lead to the reinstatement on virtue in the empire.

    On this, Machiavelli discusses two main reasons why that is most likely the case. He argues that either “one suffers a bit to recover orders when they are spoiled; the other reason is that today’s mode of living, on account of the Christian religion, does not impose that necessity to defend oneself that there was in antiquity” (II.305). Machiavelli makes a similar claim in the Discourses when he says that “our religion” has made men weak and made men “think more of enduring their beatings than of avenging them” (D II.2.131). Therefore, education seems to play a large role in how successful a regime is in accordance with virtue. A prince must know how to use both virtue and vice and how an individual is affected by the orders of the society.

    On the idea of education, in the Art of War it seems as though when it comes to the different forms of military forces in an army there is a difference in education. This would also lead to a certain difference in the virtue that each section of the military has as well. Machiavelli claims that in terms of virtue calvary are inferior to infantry (II.79). Perhaps this has something to do with the element of relying on a horse in the cavalry and only needing the virtue of men in the infantry. Therefore, the horse is equivalent to Machiavelli’s idea of fortune and the infantry would be more directly equivalent to using one’s own arms. In addition, education relates back to the idea of appearances and deception that was discussed above. The prince may choose to educate his people and soldiers by whatever mode more easily allows them to follow his rule.

    Machiavelli’s definition of virtue seems to rely on certain elements of education, skill, deception, society and training. In the Art of War Machiavelli capitalizes on the idea that a prince must appear to follow certain modes in order to rule and use his military well. Proper use of his forces leads to proper use of his own arms, another form of virtue. Therefore, it appears that virtue for Machiavelli is, to a certain extent, multifaceted and malleable to the situation and the individual. His virtue also appears less defined and restricted than Aristotle’s virtue.

The Process of Transitioning from Ignorance to True Knowledge

Plato’s Republic illustrates the educational process in which people attain the knowledge of virtue, and in discovering this truth people are able to live a happier life. This is displayed through the allegory of the cave, which presents the painful but enlightening journey in finding the truth. Socrates puts forward the image of a group of people who have been living in a cave since childhood, they are prisoners “with their legs and necks in restraints, so they’re held in place and look only to the front, restricted-by their neck restraints, from twisting their heads around.” (VII, 514B). Behind them is a fire which brings enough light to cast their shadows on the wall. Socrates states that, “such people wouldn’t consider anything to be the truth other than the shadow of artificial thing.” (VII, 515C). This essay argues, with support from the philosophies of Jean- Jacques Rousseau, that the allegory of the cave depicts the process in which people attain knowledge of the good; that the true understanding of virtue has to be learned individually and cannot be given or taught by another. Furthermore, it will bring insight on the paradox in which the good life is a happy, but painful life.

The prisoners residing in the cave do not question their reality since their condition is all they have ever known. This portrays the false virtues of society, which people readily accept without question, a life in darkness limited by the appearance of things. This directly correlates with the ideas presented by Jean- Jacques Rousseau, in his Two Discourses. He argues that man, in society, has made his morals creating the deceitful veil of  politeness; people formulate virtue from the appearance of virtue in society rather than virtue itself. Rousseau states that, “The honest man is an athlete, who loves to wrestle stark naked; he scorns the vile trappings, which prevent the exertion of his strenght.” (Rousseau, 59.2). The imprisonment of the people in the cave represents the vile trappings of society. The French philosopher continues to argue that man mistakes opinion for wisdom, holding a false appearance of virtue; “we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.” (Rousseau, 77.2). Notably, Socrates points out that a man cannot be told to leave the cave for he believes that the cave is the only truth; if another enters the cave, tells him the falsehood of his life, and forces him out he will still only see the  appearance of things. Socrates states that, “And if one were to drag him away  from there by force…until he’d dragged him into the light of the sun…and when he came into the light…wouldn’t he be unable to see even one of the things now said to be the true ones?” (VII, 515E). People can only learn virtue through their own experiences, this type of education is procedural “At first he’d most easily see the shadows, and after that the images of human beings and other things in water, and only later the things themselves, and turning from those things, he’d gaze on things in the heavens and at the heavens  themselves…”(VII, 516B). Socrates continues to claim that, “Than, at last, I’d imagine, he’d gain sight of the sun, not in its appearances of the water or in any setting foreign to it, but he’d have the power to see it itself, by itself, in its own realm and contemplate it the way it is.” (VII, 516B). Thus, it is through ones own experiences and in their compilation of those experiences  they can see true virtue. In contemplation people are able to provide conclusions in the real realm.

When someone is released from the shadows and reaches the light he feels the pain from knowing the emptiness of his past life. In living the good life people no longer live in the darkness, conducting unnatural behavior associated with the false virtues of society. Without  living knowing the truth, you are deprived of true happiness. Glaucon questions the metaphor of the cave asking, “do you think he’d be logging for those rewards and feel jealousy towards the ones honored by those people and in power among them…and wish powerfully…and submit to everything rather than live in that way?” (VII, 516D). However, Glaucon misunderstands the syllogism of the man released from the cave, as Socrates states “if you take the upward journey and sight of the things above as the soul’s road up into the intelligible region, you won’t miss my intended meaning.” (VII, 517B). Notably in regards to virtue,  Rousseau points out that in society great honor comes from the respect of others rather than self content. Honor comes from “public entertainments, the politeness of our behavior, the affability of our conversation, our constant profession of benevolence.” (Rousseau, 60.1) The vanity of man establishes honors from specific faculties, which are by nature unequal; this creates a false perception of the good cheapening virtue and leaving it unhonored. This aspect of society gives rise to vices such as, jealousy and the wish for power which were mentioned by Glaucon. The journey of the man leaving the cave and learning the true meaning of things represents man’s ability to find true virtue in society, overcoming the the vices of jealousy and desire. Thus, once the man leaves the cave and comes to the light, he will not submit to everything because he understands the limitations of living a dark life of false virtue.

The educational process of virtue involves the redirection of the soul, and all people hunger to grow and nurture the soul. The soul is nurtured in attaining the knowledge of true virtue, and once that occurs people will not revert back to an unvirtuous life because they understand that it is damaging to the soul. Socrates states that, “if someone coming from contemplation of divine things to things of a human sort is awkward and looks extremely ridiculous while his sight is still dim.” (VII, 517D). Once people learn the truth they feel pain in learning the falsehood of their life prior to gaining the truth. Socrates states that, “If such a person were to go back down and sit in the same spot, wouldn’t he get his eyes filled with darkness by coming suddenly out of the sun?” (VII, 516E).  A man will never be able to return to unvirtuous conditions and be happy. Although Socrates states that the virtuous man laughs and pities those who are unable to see virtue, and remains happy by the fact that he has the knowledge of virtue. It is not always easy to laugh and pity the ignorance of others. Even though the soul is nurtured it is often in pain, being hurt by those who act unvirtuous, especially those who are in close relation. It remains in the process of contemplation to heal from the unvirtuous to forgive and pity them. However, once a person experiences the transition from ignorance to knowledge and has “…seen the truth about beautiful and just and good thing;”  and he is dazzled by the great radiance of that educational process and with virtue itself. Thus, when a person learns the truth, even if his soul is continuously hurt by others, he will never return or conform to the unvirtuous lifestyles of other.


In Book 7 we are introduced to the Form of Good and the idea that people have to be uncomfortable and out of the norm to see things in their real forms and to be able to learn from them. “The ultimate goal of education was described by Socrates in Book VI as a bringing to sight of the good that makes evident the origin and aim of all things” (Plato,note, 210). To be able to learn you have to know all the different components and to be able to understand all aspects of anything you have to be able to comprehend all sides. This could be a thing, an animal, a concept or an idea. The experience of learning is very important and there are many factors that go into any one person learning about something. Everything has to work together for the experience to be completed and useful and the person learning has to have the right mindset.

The metaphor of the cave is what he uses to describe how people are brought into education and how people grow into it. “And if we were to drag him away from there by force… along the rough, steep road up, and didn’t let go until he’d dragged him out into the light of the sun, wouldn’t he be feeling pain and anger from being dragged, and when he came into the light and had his eyes filled with its dazzle, wouldn’t he be unable to see even one of the things now said to be the true ones?” (Plato 516A). Sometimes it takes being pushed and submerged into whatever it is you may be learning about to make an impact. If you are allowing yourself to be influenced by things that are different or conflicting with what you are trying to learn sometimes it shuts you down from being open to new ideas and perspectives. And therefore you are not able to absorb everything that you are being exposed to. “And after the images of human beings and other things in water, and only later the things themselves; and turning from those things, he’d gaze on the things in the heavens, and at the heavens themselves, more easily by night, looking at the starlight and moonlight, than by day, at sun and its light” (Plato 516B). It takes time for everything to sink in and it takes the patterns that are established to be able to make sense of everything and to really learn.

“Then at last, I imagine, he’d gain sight of the sun, not its appearances in water or in any setting foreign to it” (Plato 516B). It may take seeing the same thing in many different settings and situations to make sense of it and have a full grasp of the importance and purpose of it. I believe that you have not learned anything until you can identify whatever it may be in situations that you would not normally expect. “And after that, he could not draw the conclusion about it that this is what provides the seasons and the years, and has the governance of all things in the visible realm, and is in a certain manner the cause of all those things they’d seen” (Plato 516C). After you draw the final conclusions about what it is that you have learned and solidified it in evidence then you have learned.

After you have gone through the process of getting out of your environment and submerging yourself in the learning experiences then you are able to fully grasp all aspects of whatever the experience or idea might be. Another thing that he stresses is the importance of choosing people who are able to learn and who are inclined to learn in specific ways. “An exact counterpart to gymnastic training, educating the guardians by means of habits, and giving them a certain evenness of temper brought about by harmony rather than knowledge, and a sense of proportion brought about by rhythm, and bringing along speeches certain other habits closely related to these” (Plato 522A). You have to have the right chemistry between the teacher, student and the topic that you are trying to learn about. All things have to be working together and in sync for a teacher to be able to teach and for a student to be able to learn.

Questioning the Cave

After weaving in the analogies of the three waves, the ship of state, the sun, and the divided line, Plato finally discusses The Republic’s most famous image of the cave in Book seven. Yet, this image, although the most well known, seems secondary to the analogy of the sun, and questionable in regards to the ship of state. The sun acting as the guiding “form of good,” is the leading force for all the other analogies, including the cave. The sun sits at the top of the vertically depicted divided line, and along with reaching the intelligible, it is the absolute existence for the three waves, the ship of state, and the cave. The cave’s ability to have its captives reach their full capacity of truth and understanding puts the analogy below the sun, and still within the intelligible realm. The ship of state sits one rung below the cave, as a person may not be fully endued with the truth and good of the sun if they have not been deprived of it. The divided line does prove to us that the visual and the intelligible are connected as what is seemingly an ascending process, and because of this, the ship of state questions the idea as to whether the captors in the cave work with an education and the full understanding of their situation.

The ship of state’s true helmsman, although unassuming and seen as a “stargazer and a windbag and useless to them”, is essentially the equivalent of a philosopher-king within The Republic’s founded city (6.489a). Going unnoticed by the sailors and lacking the desire to rule the ship, the true helmsman essentially holds the knowledge of sailing, the training in the philosophy of his art, and the understanding of the needs of his crew. It is this that determines his ability and potential place within the ship of state’s hierarchy, even if “the most decent people engaged in philosophy are [perceived to be] useless to most people”(6.489b).

Quickly moving forward toward the cave analogy, we see a similar model being depicted, however, the hierarchy is not as clearly defined. Humans are enslaving humans from birth, and the captors in the cave are “going along this little wall carrying all sorts of articles that jut out over the wall, figurines of men and other animals fashioned out of stone and wood and materials of all kinds, with some of the people carrying them past making appropriate sounds and others silent”(7.515a). In an earlier city hierarchy, those born with “iron and bronze in [their souls are] the farmers and other skilled workers,” and would thereby do the work requiring manual labor and not receive an education (3.415b). Since we are not explicitly told who, or of what class, the enslavers in the cave are, it can be assumed that they are of the craftsman class, ordered by those with an education, to take the captives through the laborious process to philosophical enlightenment. This is where the crucial difference from the ship of state and the cave becomes clear: whereas we had an educated man steering the ship, how can an uneducated man, educate what will most likely be future philosophers?

This sort of education is, of course, not a difficult thing to arrange and follow, however, if these people working within the cave are uneducated and uninformed of their situation, they will question and doubt the enslavement of their young and philosophically undeveloped “brethren,” as it does not align with the noble lie told earlier—a potentially detrimental notion for the city and the future philosophers. Yet, even if these humans within the cave are fellow philosophers whose souls have made the transformation from the visible to the intelligible by “gain[ing] sight of the sun . . . and contemplat[ing] it the way it is” then it seemingly reduces the city’s hierarchical “caste” system and duty of the philosopher, thereby contradicting the noble lie as well (7.516b).

The sentiment of the original question still stands however, because for as neat and clever as the allegory of the cave is, it leaves the education of the captors open-ended and disputable. And in reference to the divided line, at which the sun reigns over the intelligible, an analogy firmly rooted in the visible—the ship of state—is able to question a very important component of the cave allegory in the intelligible. If this is an intentioned decision on Plato’s behalf, then perhaps this also lends itself toward a notion of the distinction, or lack there of, between the visible and the intelligible.


All Down the Line

Socrates offers two particular images, the sun and the divided line, in Book 6 of The Republic, preparing the way for a third image in Book 7 of the cave. Glaucon returns to the dialogue for Socrates’ central exposition of what philosophy is and why it is inescapably needed. A genuine philosopher’s studies must transcend justice, by which all human life is governed and illuminated, in order to reach complete understanding. Even an indirect approach to this type of study is demanding, so Socrates invites the use of different kinds of images, since it is “necessary to pull things together from many places in order to give an image of [the good] and a defense on their behalf” (488a). Socrates cannot directly articulate what the look of the good is, so he uses three analogies: the sun, the divided line, and the cave, in an attempt to explain what he means. In order to discover the nature of Platonic philosophy, an examination of the divided line provides an in-depth analogy for the form of the good.

Every soul pursues the things that are good, Socrates explains, and people who seek it have a sense that it’s something, but at a loss and unable to get an adequate grasp of what it is. “The greatest learnable thing is the look of the good, which just things and everything else need in addition in order to become useful and beneficial” (505a). To the more sophisticated thinkers, good isn’t just pleasure, it is intelligence. The look of the good endows the things known with truth, and gives that which is known them its power (508e). Good is responsible for all knowledge and truth, and is the cause of the existence of the forms in the intelligible realm and the source of all that is beautiful in the visible realm. How we reach the good, however, requires further elaboration.

Socrates begins with the analogy of the sun in comparison to the look of the good. Just as the sun is the source of illumination that brings visibility to the visible realm, good is the source of everything in the intelligible realm. The sun is what allows our eyes to see, and in the same manner, the good gives us capacity to understand knowledge. While the sun isn’t sight, but is the thing responsible for it, Socrates calls it the “offspring of the good, which the good generated as something analogous to itself” (508c). The sun is responsible for causing things to exist, or come to be, in the visible realm, just as the good is responsible for the existence of forms. Socrates bids us to think of the power of the soul as being the same way. “Whenever it becomes fixed on that which truth and being illumine, it has insight, discerns, and shows itself to have an intellect” (508d). Following the analogy of the sun, Socrates further elaborates at the request of Glaucon.

The two forms, knowledge and opinion, are a pair, just like light and sight are sunlike, though neither one of these forms should be individually considered as being the good. “The condition of the good requires that it be held in still greater honor” (509A). Knowledge (episteme) rules as king, Socrates explains, over the intelligible race and realm, and opinion (doxa), for its part, over the visible. We are then to picture them as being like a line is divided into two unequal segments, one for the visible realm and the other for the intelligible realm. The intelligible realm must occupy the larger part if length is analogous to clarity, and the visible realm must occupy the smaller part related to obscurity. In the visible realm, the “soul takes as images the things that were imitated before, and is forced to inquire based on presuppositions, proceeding not to a beginning but to an end” (510b). On the contrary, in the intelligible realm we go from a presupposition to a beginning free of hypotheses, without the images involved and making its investigation into forms themselves and by means of them. The line is divided a second time in the same unequal ratio, segmenting the visible realm into illusion and belief, and the intelligible realm into reason and intelligence.

The bottom quarter segment is for illusion, images, shadows, mere perception, and reflections. Imagination is the lowest form of cognitive activity, because it is only an illusion of our ordinary, everyday experience. Eikasia is the state of illusion or conjecture, the kind of images Socrates says are like “shadows…semblances formed in water and on all dense, smooth, bright surfaces” (510a). A person living in this state considers images and reflections the most real things in the world, much like someone who defines her sense of self or surrounding environment from things seen on television or in movies. Socrates may also mean a state in which we are uncritical of our perceptions and accept visible things without questioning or seeking explanations. Just like those in the Cave later on in The Republic, they accept the shadows and make conjectures concerning its likeness, neglecting to differentiate from the original object casting the image.

In the next segment, which is the form of belief, Socrates places “the animals around us, and every plant, and the whole class of artificial things” (510a). This level of cognition recognizes visible objects, and the eye makes probable predictions upon observing and making contact with real things. The state of pistis is divided with respect to truth and as something known, as opposed to the previous state of illusion which is a mere copy and shadow of discrete physical objects. In this stage, we may begin to correlate our perceptions and opinions, but we fail to subject them to critical analysis in order to cross over into the intelligible realm.

Socrates then considers the next way the division of the intelligible part needs to be made, in which thought hypothesizes the existence of forms based on the visible world. The mathematical reasoning segment of dianoia is the first step to knowledge in the intelligible realm. “People who concern themselves with matters of geometry and calculation” use sensible particulars as images to aid in their reasoning and arguing, relying on hypotheses and unproven assumptions. This type of mathematical reasoning is abstract, and the psyche assumes hypotheses while making use of images to conceptualize a final conclusion. Similar to the shadows and images in water from the eikasia realm, those who have reached this particular level of cognition use images in an “attempt to see those things themselves that one could not see in any other way than by the power of thinking” (511a). Contrary to the first realm of illusion, the soul in the realm of mathematical reasoning has the power to step off above its presuppositions, using as images those things that are “reputed to be of preeminent clarity and are treated with honor” (511a). The divided line in itself is a mathematical image, interestingly enough, and it is important to note the equality of the two center segments, dianoia and pistis. This implies that precision in regards to geometry or algebra stands at the same level as clarity or truth gained by observation of the senses. Conversely, the same equality makes the claim that the visible, and tangible, things around us are images and not the original beings (Sachs, 208).

Lastly, having worked her way up with philosophical dialectic toward the look of the good, an individual reaches understanding. This final level of intelligence, or noesis, Socrates describes as “steppingstones and springboards” creating genuinely standing places so that “rational speech may descend in that way to a conclusion, making no more use in any way whatever of anything perceptible, but dealing with forms themselves” (511b). When one reaches this level, active insight grasps the look of the good as an un-hypothetical first principle from which everything else follows, rather than starting from presuppositions. True understanding does not require images as a crutch, because it is a purely abstract knowledge. The axioms and hypotheses of thought are made unnecessary in this realm by a single universal proposition upon which the entire body of knowledge can be based.

This is a “tremendous amount of work,” according to Glaucon, but he understands that Socrates’ analogy of the divided line is meant to illustrate the four grades of knowledge and opinion available for accessing the world. The exploration of the details is not an end, but a beginning to understanding the look of the good. The metaphor of the divided line is an invitation to readers to think for themselves, and ingenious means of prompting consideration that there is more to the world than mere appearance. This passage suggests that we have an incomplete understanding of the world if we only accept what we can see. A rational, searching mind has the ability to uncover the true nature of reality, distinguishing between the visible realm and the intelligible realm in order to grasp what is real by means of intellect. Socrates’ use of metaphors rather than arguments is a means to alter our perception rather than prove a particular point.

The distinction between the visible realm and the intelligible realm claims a distinct and higher sphere for abstract thought above concrete thought. Our opinion of the visible realm is imperfect and changing, so it amounts at best to true belief, whereas the abstract knowledge that governs the intelligible realm is perfect and unchanging, amounting to a higher form of good above belief. Socrates concludes, that for the “four segments of the line are these four kinds of experiences that arise in the soul, active insight for the highest and thinking for the second, and…trust to the third and imagination to the last” (511d). Those who are “lovers of sights and sounds,” like Thrasymachus, are essentially stuck in the visible realm (“justice is the advantage of the stronger”), rather than able to think abstractly. We may apply what we have learned about the “look of the good” to justice, or risk falling prey to Thrasymachus’s relativism as a consequence of not seeing the whole picture. It is not enough to view just actions, we must also understand the relation of ideas to all four levels of the divided line. Justice in the visible realm may be relative, but the look of justice itself is absolute and irrefutable. In order to live a just life or to organize and govern a just state, we must understand the intelligible realm of justice.

Knowledge and the Cave

At the beginning of Book seven Socrates turns to the topic of education and proposes a scenario where humans are taken into a cave and restrained from childhood. The only light they know is what comes from a fire behind their heads and the only truths they understand are the ones presented to them by the passing shadows they can see on the wall in front of them. These shadows become truths to them, so much so that they accept them and become comfortable with them. Socrates then asks Glaucon to consider what would happen if the people were released and allowed to face the outside world. According to Socrates these people would be unable to immediately face the outside world because of the bright sunlight they would face. However, what he appears to be hinting at is that if you are raised with a set of certain ideas that you believe to be true and then suddenly your whole world changes and suddenly those truths have changed, you will have a hard time adjusting.  By deconstructing his conversation with Glaucon further we can get to the bottom of this.

Socrates begins this discussion by setting up a scenario where humans, taken from childhood, are chained and forced to look at a wall in a cave in which the only source of light is from a fire burning behind them. The only things they can see are the shadows that pass along which are displayed by puppeteers (7.514B). These puppeteers hold up various “articles” that look like men and women and various animals. The humans will only see the shadow that these articles cast, so that whatever kind of shadow a dog casts, that is what they think a dog look like (7.515A).  This is just like when we are children and our parents point to a round object and say, “ball,” we now know this object as a ball. This is just something we were told; if we are not told what to call it we will make up our own identification for it. That is what would happen to the people in the cave, they would create identifications for various things based off the shadows they cast on the wall. Socrates even goes as far as to point this out, he says that if they heard a sound, would they associate it with the shadow. Glaucon says no, so Socrates points out that, “such people wouldn’t consider anything to be the truth other than the shadows of artificial things” (7.515C). This sets up the next stage to his scenario in which he proposes releasing the people from the cave.

The trauma involved in being released from the restraints comes from the sudden introduction of light. This is what we would think of as a blatant reference to being blinded by the truth. The person who was just released has been relying on mere shadows of objects their entire life and now they have been exposed to a whole new world. Socrates points out that the person who was released would need a period of adjustment to get accustomed to his new surroundings (7.516A). The idea that he would want to return to his old home is brought up and Glaucon states that, “ I imagine, he’d submit to enduring everything rather than live in that way,” (7.516D). Glaucon is bringing up the point that as human beings we would rather know than not know, we crave the truth even if it is painful and must be endured.  Even though the exposer to the sunlight and the new truths would be painful for this person it is better than sitting, restrained in a cave being influenced by a bunch of shadows on a wall; at least that is what Glaucon is proposing.

In the end what the cave represents is the idea that we seek out truth, and that how we are conditioned shapes what we see as true. If those truths are challenged or changed then we will endure them because we slowly accept them as the new set of truths. If this is true than what can we really determine to be true? If we are constantly seeking new knowledge then how will we ever know where we stand? These are the basic questions that come out of the discussion of the cave between Socrates and Glaucon. The answer seems to be that as humans we will constantly seek out more knowledge and new truths no matter how painful the experience.


In book VI of the Republic, Plato’s Socrates strives to explain why philosophers are the subjects of scorn and hostility in ordinary cities. To illustrate these unjustified but understandable reasons, Socrates uses the image of the ship of state. On the ship the philosopher is represented as a stargazer, the man with the knowledge necessary for navigation. Despite his knowledge, he is incapable of becoming helmsman of the ship as he does not partake in vying for the favor of the shipowner. This tension, among others, reveals both the reasons for the marginalization of philosophers and the repercussions of the absence of them and their knowledge. Overall, the ship of state image illuminates the rift between philosophers, rulers, and the ruled as well as the consequences of that separation.

The ship of state metaphor as used by Plato in book VI revolves around a shipowner, sailors, and the true helmsman. The sailors “are divided against one another”, and vy for the attention and favor of the shipowner who is “a little deaf and… somewhat shortsighted” as well as lacking in complete “knowledge of seafaring skills” (VI.488b). These competitive efforts are aimed at convincing the shipowner “to turn over the helm to them”, a position that would put the winning sailor in control of the ship’s steering (VI.488c). The helmsman in the “true sense”, however, stands apart from these sailors and their competition (VI.489a). Socrates identifies him as the man who stands to the side and keeps his gaze fixed on the sky to monitor the “times and seasons” as well as the “stars and winds” (VI.488d). He is the true helmsman because he is the individual with the knowledge necessary to steer the ship, knowledge that he has gained through his studying of the sky (VI.488d). Despite being the individual most suited to the art of helmsmaning and navigation, this individual will never become the helmsman of the ship  because he is unconcerned and uninvolved with both the other sailors and their competition.

This is the tension that Socrates is attempting to highlight in the Ship of State metaphor – the individual most suited to and knowledgeable about navigating the ship is the least likely to enter into the position of helmsman. Furthermore, the activity that makes him singularly suited to being helmsman of the ship is also what guarantees that he will not be. It is because he spends his time studying the weather patterns and movements of the stars that he does not participate in the competition among the other sailors by “using either persuasion or force on the shipowner” (VI.488d). As such, his studies directly impede his chance of becoming helmsman. If he were to enter the fray, he would likely be entirely incompetent at the competition as he has no experience with the skills needed. This is another pointed issue raised by the metaphor. The skills needed to become helmsman of the ship are entirely distinct from those needed to steer the ship. Due to the nature of becoming a helmsman, the skill the sailors endeavor to perfect is the skill of gaining control of the helm, namely “begging” and manipulating the shipowner, even going so far as to use “mandrake or liquor” to incapacitate him in their favor (VI.488c). These are hardly skills that contribute in any way to the navigation of the ship or that qualify an individual to be a guide and leader of his peers.

The metaphor  of the ship to politics in a democracy is very apt, then, as this competition between fellows and begging and manipulation of the ruled in order to be elected to a position of political power is necessary. The qualification of being elected is not political skill or knowledge but electability. Prospective politicians must use their time and focus their dedication on learning what is necessary to become elected and then implementing those techniques. To an extent, this is entirely incompatible with committing the necessary time to learning “everything pertaining to the art” of being a good and “skilled ruler” (VI.488d). A further issue is the drastic measures highlighted in the Ship of State metaphor. The sailors manipulate and maneuver the shipowner, the ruled in a city, and these unscrupulous measures combined with the time and energy needed for the competition indicate that the sailors have an immense desire to acquire power given that the process is so difficult and even corrupt. As such, if the desire to acquire power is so prominent, it is likely that that desire overshadows any desire to serve as a good helmsman to the ship and leader to the sailors. Instead, when they acquire this power “they rule the ship and make use of what’s in it” for themselves, sailing not for the good of the ship or the shipowner but for their own enjoyment and benefit (VI.488c). Effectively, both the skills and desires of the sailors are incompatible with what is necessary to be a good ruler.

If the requirement of being the true helmsman is to look vertically, it is necessary that he abstain from looking horizontally at the sailors. As such, the truer the helmsman is the less opportunity he has to actually implement his knowledge, and it is perhaps a necessary condition of the truest helmsman that he not desire to be the helmsman at all. If so, in some bizarre sense it seems that none of the individuals in the Ship of State metaphor are at all interested in steering the ship. The sailors only want to gain power, and the true helmsman only wants to study the heavens. Moreover, the possibility of change seems unlikely. The true helmsmen is both out of the competition and mocked by the other sailors for being “a stargazer and a windbag and useless” as the other sailors do not view observation of weather and stars as a viable qualification for being helmsman. Additionally, the sailors are incapable of changing and learning the art of steering simply because “they claim it’s not even teachable, and they’re ready to cut someone to pieces for even saying it is” (VI.489a, VI.488b-c).

If the ship were an ideal one, the squabbling sailors would notice the true helmsman standing away from them, and decide to use his guidance and expertise to sail their way home. However, this is thoroughly unlikely, and in an actual city the state of these true helmsmen would be perhaps even worse than simply being ignored and “[reviled] … as useless” (VI.488d). The philosopher, the true helmsman, in the city not only “keeps quiet” and “minds his own business”, the early definition of justice, but he also must take shelter (VI.496d). The image provided by Socrates is that of a “storm”, with the philosopher taking shelter from “dust and spray” by protecting himself behind “the shelter of a little wall” (VI.496d, VI.496d). This image of the philosopher characterizes his separation from the city and politics as being motivated not just by an incompatibility between studying the universal and the particular or by being deemed useless, but also because “he’d get himself killed” (VI.496d). Such a blatant reference to violence towards the philosopher is absent from the ship of state metaphor, but it’s inclusion later on in book six is nevertheless important in understanding the tension between politics and philosophy. Moreover, this is a radical departure from the city in speech. In one the philosophers “rule as kings in their cities”, and in the other they are forced to take cover (V.473d).

Overall, what the image seems to call for is an integration of philosophy into politics. The philosopher is needed to explain the relationship between what doesn’t change and what does, between being and becoming. Only the philosopher, who has studied the universal and transcendent looks of things such as justice and goodness, is capable of identifying those things when “they make their appearance everywhere in common with actions and bodies and one another” and “[appear] as many” (V.476a). The only way to identify a course, action, or direction as virtuous is to understand the way in which particular things are related to the unchanging realities of those virtues, and how those unchanging realities are expressed. As such, it is up to the one who is a “lover of the sight of the truth” and who has studied unwaveringly those things that are above and beyond the world of becoming, much as the true helmsman studies “the sky and the stars” above and beyond the activities and concerns of his fellow sailors (V.475e, VI.488d).

The question arises, however, if this is at all possible. The proposed solution is, of course, to have rulers be as philosophers or to have philosophers be rulers, but this too seems to be problematic in its own manner. On the ship philosophers are characterized by their unwavering gaze fixed on the sky, and earlier in the Republic a true philosopher are described as one who “goes toward learning gladly and in an insatiable spirit” and is a “desirer of wisdom” (V.475c, V.475b). To become involved in the political arena of the city would necessarily be a departure from these things. The rulers or guardians of the city in speech would have to keep their focus on the citizens and their activities, not on the studying the good in order to fulfill their function as preserving and protecting the city. Wisdom would still be important to the guardians, but it is not the truth that they are to love; instead, they are to maintain “their opinion that they ought to do what’s best for the city” (III.412e). As such, wisdom for the rulers seems to be a goal to obtain a specific true opinion, not an active and enduring love of learning and seeking the truth. The rulers would certainly be wise and ruled by wisdom, but they would not be lovers of wisdom in the truest sense.

Socrates sets up the ship of state image to explain why the role of philosophers is so disparaged and misunderstood within the city. The errors and misunderstandings behind this are elucidated, yet the tension of how philosophers could ever be involved in the political activity still remains. While becoming rulers may allow philosophers to serve in and guide the city, it is not clear if there is any room in the city for true philosophy. When serving as king or queen the role of the philosopher is preservation, not questioning or examining, a far cry from the conception of the true philosopher, from Socrates himself, and from the stargazer aboard the ship. It is that image on which the ship of state metaphor concludes, the image and affirmation of the real philosopher as an individual driven by a love that can only be fulfilled by communion with true being.


Athens the Empire?

Thucydides tells us in his work The Peloponnesian War that during the fifth year of the Peloponnesian war there was an uprising of the Mytilenian people against the Athenian people by The People who were armed by the aristocrats of Mytilene. That revolt was squashed by an Athenian named Paches, but there was a debate on what to do with those who revolted. During the second day of speeches, Athenian assembly heard two speakers who gave different opinion on how the Mytilenian people should be treated. Both of these speeches will give contrasting opinions about the state of Athenian democracy and how best to deal with the parties that where responsible for the uprising.
The first speech listed by Thucydides is Cleon who is given the epithets of “most violent man in Athens “and “at the time most powerful among the people.” (3.36.6) The opening of Cleon’s appeal says” I have often before now been convinced that a democracy is incapable of empire” (3.37.1) But right after that statement is this: “your empire is a despotism and your subjects disaffected conspirators who obedience is granted by the superiority given to you by your own strength” (3.37.2), implying that Athens is no longer all about the people ruling, but an empire that is held together by brute strength. Cleon believes that it is worse when a people side with the enemy out of spite, than if they have a problem with Athens,” I can make allowance for those who revolt because they cannot bear our empire… it is deliberate and wonton aggression ; an attempt to ruin us by siding with a bitterest enemies.”(3.39.2) Again the language suggests that Cleon already considers Athens to be less than democratic. This type of rebellion is viewed to be worse “than a war undertaken on their own account in the acquisition of power.”(3.39.2) Cleon could be speaking of Athens with that line, because the Athenians are well known for having the best navy. He touches on the subject of who should be punished for the revolt and Cleon states this “Their offense was not involuntary, but of malice and deliberate; and mercy is only for the unwilling offenders” (3.40.1) He goes on to announce that there are three things that are fatal to an empire and in this case Athens:” pity, sentiment and indulgence. Compassion is due to those who can reciprocate the feeling… charm us with sentiment may find other less important arenas for their talents …while indulgence should be shown toward those who will be are friends in the future” (3.40.2) Claims that justice has to prevail and in order for that to happen the Mytilenians have to be shown that it was stupid to rebel against such a powerful enemy, ” punish the Mytilenians as your interest requires; or else you must give up your empire and cultivate honesty without danger.”(3.40.4) By that statement Cleon is maintaining that if Athens shows mercy this one time, then all of the other tributaries will take up arm, and then Athens will no longer wield vast amounts of power nor hold an empire. “The penalty of rebellion is death. Let them once understand this and you will not have so often to neglect your enemies while you are fighting with your own confederates”, I take this to mean that on the occasion that when a smaller polis learns that it should not rebel against a larger more dominate polis, the better off both parties will be.

While Cleon makes the case that Athens is no longer a democracy but an empire, Diodotus “son of Eucrates” (3.42.1) does seem to believe that Athens is no longer a democracy, however he came to that conclusion a bit differently than Cleon did. Diodotus starts off his speech by saying that there are “two things most opposed to good counsel: haste and passion “and that “haste usually goes hand in hand with folly, passion with coarseness and narrowness of mind” (3.42.1) I do think he is making light of Cleon’s earlier speech because all of what he said could be seen as passion therefore calling into question whether or not Cleon is giving good counsel. Diodotus declares that Athens should not look at the short term, but the assembly should be thinking more long term, and the outcome of the Mytilenian will have lasting effects, “deliberating for the future more than for the present.” (3.44.3) Diodotus unlike Cleon is not interested in justice but what is in Athens’ best interest; “the question is not justice, but how to make Mytilene useful to Athens.”(3.44.4) and “the question before us sensible men is not of their guilt, but of our interests” (3.44.1) He goes with the argument that all people have the urge to be deviant, but only through laws and force will you curve that urge,” states and individuals , are alike prone to err” (3.45.3), but it is impossible to prevent and only great simplicity can hope to prevent, human nature doing what it has once set its mind upon, by force of law or by any other deterrent.”(3.45.7) He gives opposing scenarios dealing with a revolting city, the best being to let The People live and have them pay money to us.” We must not therefore, sit as strict judges of the offenders…see how moderate chastisements we may be enabled to benefit in future by revenue producing powers” (3.46.4) Diodotus closes his speech by arguing what is best in the long run will eventually pay off for Athens, “it is far more useful for the preservation of our empire to put up with injustice voluntarily, than to put to death, however justly, those whom is our interest to keep alive” (3.47.5)

Cleon’s speech was all about the short term results for Athens, not as a democracy but an empire. Whereas Diodotus’ appeal touches on the fact that he believes Athens is an empire, because throughout his speech, he claims that Mytilene could be useful through a tribute, which is something empires tend to do with places they have conquered.

Cleon’s Justice

For Cleon the Mytilene debate seems to be pretty black and white. His argument seems to align very much to that of a modern day political Realist except on one rather major point, which is he is appealing to justice. The idea of justice is something a Realist would never start with as the foundation of their argument because justice usually does not provide clear answers for what is the best option. However, in Cleon’s argument justice seems to do just that.

It is clear from Cleon’s speech that his idea of justice revolves around the idea of getting what you deserve, as displayed here “let them now therefore be punished as their crime requires” (3.39.6). Putting the Mytilenian people to death seems to be the only justifiable punishment for what they have done according to Cleon. “No one state has ever injured you as much as Mytilene”, and therefore the Athenian people can not show mercy, if they do it will make others question their authority (3.39.1). Cleon explains that if this why a revolt, then death would be too harsh a punishment but that “this is not revolt – revolt implies oppression; it is deliberate and wanton aggression; an attempt to ruin us by siding with our bitterest enemies” (3.39.2). In his speech he is trying to convince the Athenians that they vote in the side of justice in order to maintain authority and so that other nations know that “the penalty of rebellion is death” and they would not try to rebel in fear of death (3.40.7).

Cleon’s side had won the day before and the people voted to put the Mytilenians to death, and then woke up with a sort of buyer’s remorse the next day and decided they needed to revote. Cleon knew the people had already made the right choice and people having the ability to revoke an already ruled upon decision prompted him to display his thoughts on the Athenian democracy. He explained, “that a democracy is incapable of empire” if nothing can ever get done because anyone is allowed to questions decisions that have already been made (3.37.1). If a law or decision can always be challenged than neither has any authority and if laws or political decisions have no authority then an empire has no strength. Even “bad laws which are never changed are better for a city that good ones that have no authority” because people know what is expected of them (3.37.3).

Cleon warns the Athenians that “reversing your decision, or giving way to the three failings most fatal to empire – pity, sentiment and indulgence” could undermine their authority in Greece (3.40.2). He explains that they cannot show pity for those who would not reciprocate the favor, and that the Mytilenians have shown that they do not pity the Athenians through there outward rebellion. Indulgence should reserved for those who will be your friends in the future and the Mytilenians have no interest in that, and the sentiments of the Athenian people should not reflect their sympathies but for what the Mytilenian people have done to them and their reputation. Cleon tells the Athenians that if they allow themselves to fall victim to these “failings” they would be avoiding justice and become traitors to themselves. He wants the Athenian people to understand that if they allow the Mytilenians crime to go with out is just punishment they are sending the message to all of Greece that it was ok for them to rebel and “if they were right in rebelling, you must be wrong in ruling” (3.40.4).

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