Professor Smith discusses the Republic in this lecture. I wish to complement that discussion by concentrating the focus on some elements of the work which he did not take up, combining these elements with those elements he considered seen through a slightly different set of concerns which involves my complaint that the course was not sufficiently Kantian. One of my concerns below is also the distinction between a Socrates who, even in the Republic had his own idea of the healthy city and thereby differentiated his view from Plato’s which he goes on to present.
The dialogue of the Republic begins with Socrates using the tools of elenchus in search of a definition of justice which he probably only sees through the lens of his method darkly. Polemarchus is a spirited man unlike his father, Cephalus, who is a man driven by appetite. Polemarchus is driven by a Homeric paradigm of a courageous warrior when he claims that justice is doing good to one’s friends and harm to one’s enemies and Socrates has a battery of arguments to counteract this definition, the most important of which from the point of view of the development of the dialogue is that justice must in some sense be related to knowledge and anyone applying Polemarchus’s definition must first know who their friends and enemies are. Failure to do so will result in the opposite effect, namely doing harm to one’s friends and good to one’s enemies.Socrates also points out that common sense seems to suggest that doing harm to a bad man will only make him worse. Thrasymachus also has his arguments demolished by elenchus when he, also in a Homeric spirit, suggests that the strong ruling to their own advantage is just. The argument he offers in support of his definition amazes Socrates. What Socrates would regard as unjust, namely a small group of people ruling to their advantage is defined as just by Thrasymachus. It seems to Socrates as if an inversion of the good and bad is involved in this definition. The argument used to defend the definition is an empirical/observational one, namely, a large number of different regimes actually are ruled by a small group of strong men who pass laws systematically to their own advantage. The argument seems to be a form of functionalism/consequentialism. The system is widespread because it works.
A Kantian objection to this would point out the confusion between descriptive and normative categories of argument. A modern analytical objection would complain about the naturalistic fallacy of deriving a final normative ought statement from a series of is-statements. Glaucon, himself a declared consequentialist(he believes that people obey laws because of the consequences involved if they do not) is not satisfied with the elenctic refutation and demands that Socrates proves that justice is both good in itself and good in its consequences. Socrates obtains approval for his strategy that the soul and the city are in some sense isomorphic with one another and begins to build a city from the elements of what is needed for its survival and preservation, in the process providing the principle of justice which he argues is the principle of specialization: everyone doing the work he is best able to do and refraining from interfering in the work of others. The city Socrates constructs is very small and very simple containing simple souls, no luxuries, no warriors and no philosophers. Glaucon refuses to admit that this “healthy city” of Socrates is the final destination in the search for justice. He is a spirited man and Socrates has built a city which requires sublimation of his ambition and war-like nature. He calls the city a city for pigs and demands in the name of the isomorphism of city and soul that a city be constructed in which spirited souls find a home. Socrates agrees to continue the search for justice in this fevered city which attempts to accommodate competition and war. Haunting the account is, of course, the failure of Socrates to tame the spirit of his interlocutors who have long relied on spirit to control itself with its myths, legends, and stories of spirited heroes. The philosophical hero like Socrates will not easily supplant Achilles and Odysseus in the mind of the hoi polloi.The hero devalues life in favour of love of fame and honour and is prepared to sacrifice himself in the cauldron of activities that precipitate all kinds of secondary emotions such as anger. It is clear when reason is excluded from its mediating role in this situation that the soul is at war with itself. The appetite for life is cast aside and in this cauldron we are treated to the activity of a Leontes, feasting his eyes upon the dead corpses. This is an activity taken from the great war between Thanatos and Eros. How could justice possibly emerge from such a war?
The idea of the harmony of the parts of the soul requires that the parts each perform their specific function. Spirit tyrannizes and dominates unless its desires are tamed by reason. It appears that three major waves are required if we are to make the transition to Plato’s Republic in which each class will perform its proper function. Firstly, the guardians must not own anything and refrain from handling gold. Secondly, they will not be able to form normal families. Thirdly guardians will be selected and given a very specific education. Professor points out that there are definite problems with the soul-city isomorphic thesis when it comes to organizing the city:
“But, one may ask, is the structure of the city identical to the structure of the soul? Another objection to this model is that whilst each of us is composed of three parts we are confined to one part of the hierarchy in the city. Plato argues that one part naturally dominates the others and this part will want fulfillment in a particular kind of work. The implication of this is that the majority will not have just souls if that is defined as the soul controlled by reason. Only a minority of philosopher-rulers will function harmoniously in accordance with reason.”
In spite of all his caveats and objections including perhaps those of Socrates to the fevered city, Professor Smith ends his essay by stating:
“I am not convinced that the idea of the philosopher kings is an impossible one.”
Another form of this brand of idealism, Kants Stoical duty-based theory, would argue that the soul should not be divided Platonically into Reason, Spirit, and Appetites, on the grounds that if the soul is a non-material principle it does not make sense to talk of parts or divisions. The soul disappears as a theoretical entity and Kant talks more holistically in terms of the person or the man who is metaphysically constituted of what happens to him and what he causes to happen in accordance with certain categories of the understanding and ideas of reason. The person becomes more like a university for Kant with a number of faculties performing different functions. The Sensibility, the Understanding, and Reason(Theoretical and Practical) constitute these faculties of the person and this, of course, is a very theoretical abstract picture of the whole of man. Perhaps judgment is also another faculty of the Stoic man which is used for life in the polis and perhaps the harmony of these faculties constitutes the areté of this great-souled man as perhaps Aristotle might call him. For Kant political judgment must fall into the realm of the hypothetical imperative, the world of prudential reasoning where here perhaps we can only expect to see really statesmanlike behaviour in a kingdom of ends where the rule of law is isomorphic with the moral law of our minds. Here Kant and Aristotle may agree that Politics aims at the good in a very uncertain manner and certainty therefore cannot be demanded in the same way it can in other domains. One essential difference between Plato and Aristotle and Kant is that the two former philosophers believe in monarchy as a form of government whereas Kant favours the Republic form of government and specifically criticises Kings for the money that was spent on wars instead of education and indirectly he,as we know, also criticised an Emperor for forbidding him to write about Religion.