no previous

The Republic

  ― 1 ―
view facsimile


Danger of confusions and misuses: confusion between Greek and Athenian culture or way of life. Athenian culture at its peak can't be taken as representative of Greek life. On the other hand, Greek philosophy is not to be taken as Athenian; the philosophic movement started from Ionian cities, went from there to southern Italy, and it is not till 5th century that we find philosophy developing on the mainland. The leading Greek philosophers, apart from Socrates and Plato, are not Athenian. At the same time we don't get a true picture of the Athenian way of life by reading the dialogues: Socrates' views are no more representative of what is Athenian in particular than of what is Greek in general. In so far as there was an Athenian outlook we can take it as that of democracy. (In Republic we get a presentation of various contemporary beliefs and practices; but, in any case, there was a clash between Athenian and Socratic views.)

Subject-matter of Republic . From the title (that has been given to it) one would think of it as a political essay. (Cf. Popper's view that it represents Plato' reaction against the existing political situation and his desire to create a tyrannical and “closed” society.) The political matter, however, is brought in as subsidiary to the main topic of the excellence of the human soul—the founding of a perfect State as illustrative of the perfection of the soul: i.e., political matter is introduced to illustrate moral matter. Taylor says that as far as Socrates is concerned there is no real distinction between excellence in the State and excellence in the soul. On the face of it in the text the Socratic view is that excellence is a property of individual souls and that an ideal organisation would reflect this excellence. (However, Socrates carries his discussion of organisation in general (and education in particular) far beyond the point of giving an analogy to the best organisation of the soul; his discussion or working out of an educational system can't be reduced to the working out of a mental system (organisation of the human soul). In fact, unless the two notions (perfection in State and perfection in soul) are in some ways distinct, the analogy loses its force; and we have to admit that Socrates in discussing social organisation in general and education in particular is introducing specifically social phenomena. Taylor is right in taking it that, for Socrates, the moral question is the more important, but we can't say that the subject of Republic is excellence of soul only.

In addition to social and political questions, logical problems are raised—questions of the nature of reality and the conditions of investigating it—and this is carried to conclusions beyond the point to which organisation of human mind and State would take us. Same in most early dialogues; in Euthyphro, ostensibly a discussion of piety, we have a general treatment of the problem of definition;

  ― 2 ―
view facsimile

in Phaedo (ostensible subject “immortality”) Socrates develops an account of the character of argument and the conditions of inquiry, a general view of method, which goes beyond its applicability to immortality. In Republic he takes the supreme view of harmony and unity note—a view that can be expressed in terms of the contrast between a harmonious and a discordant state of affairs: i.e., excellence in the human soul is a condition (state) of harmony, excellence in the State (the political organisation of human beings) is a state of harmony: and whatever differences might exist between questions of soul and questions of State these would have to be settled harmoniously with one another—we should have to be able to show just in what was harmony in the soul goes with harmony in the State and not merely to draw an analogy between the two; i.e., whether that is actually so or not, whether or not there is a causal connection between personal and social organisation, at least that is what Socrates is making out (what he would have to make out in order to have a coherent—a logical—view of harmony), and we could thus see how political and social questions could fit into his discussion, even if he thought that the (matter of) final or ultimate interest was in the question of a harmonious condition of the human soul or mind.

In terms of this description of the subject-matter we can still see the relevance of the other questions raised—the relevance, in particular, of the logical question, the question of the nature of reality, to questions of human affairs: we can see that, for Socrates, harmony is in some sense the principle of reality and that what falls short of harmony in some way falls short of reality or is comparatively unreal: and even if we decide that that is not an expression to which any exact meaning can be given, we can still recognise that Socrates thought it had a meaning—that he (it) called our attention to the fact that the pursuit of goodness is a pursuit of order or organisation, that those who lead a virtuous life are participating in the work of making things rational, of giving them a fuller meaning and reality, making them in larger measure objects of study, of scientific knowledge, than they were before. And then we can see also the relevance of the theory of education to the whole inquiry understood in this sense: the educational process will be considered as the process by which order or organisation is produced

  ― 3 ―
view facsimile

or maintained in the human mind; the educational question will be how the mind can acquire or how closely (close) it can approach to the character of unity or harmony. We can understand in those terms how Socrates was opposed to both Sophists and Athenian democrats (of whom one of his prosecutors, Anytus, may be taken as typical). Because even though the democrats and the Sophists differed from one another (as is illustrated by what Anytus says in the Meno) they are both, in the question of unity, opposed to the Socratic notion of training for a whole life, which is a training in, or development of, an understanding of reality as a whole. They both believe in separate and special types of training (i.e., training) for particular purposes—for Sophists, training for political success, especially by means of rhetoric or “the art of speech”; for democrats, training of a vocational character, for one's particular occupation (exemplified by training for an occupation like Anytus's). Contrast between Sophists and democrats seen in fact (cf. Meletus in Apology and Anytus in Meno) that the democrats did not recognise any special sort of political training—thought that people acquired the right attitude to politics and to public conduct in general simply by associating with respectable Athenian citizens (i.e., democrats), simply by habituation, by adopting the types of behaviour that were customary among their elders; and of course, as Burnet points out, the special training that the Sophists gave, in politics and the art of speech, was particularly suited to the aristocrats, (to the moneyed people) who were subject to the political pressure of the majority (of the democrats themselves). In both cases, then, the question is of plurality, of parts (kinds?) of training which need not have any connection with one another; whereas for Socrates there were common principles of all training, all training involved search for fundamental principles and in that way the opposition between Socrates' and other views can be expressed as an opposition between harmony (unity) and diversity, between harmony and discord, between the recognition and the non-recognition of universal principles of human training, universal principles of human life and indeed of reality in general.


Allowing that there are bound to be connections between ethics and politics there might be great difficulty in establishing the relevance of the question of logic. When Socrates regards education as training for a whole life (for

  ― 4 ―
view facsimile

harmonious living) he takes it that the development of an understanding of reality (in so far as we get a greater grasp of “the scheme of things”) would achieve a greater integration. Now taking the leading question of Republic to be that of unity or harmony, the important consideration at the outset is the opposition between different conceptions of unity and what it demands (entails?) so that we get competing views, first of all, of what is meant by the unity of reality. We get the view that reality is one single thing, that the “scheme of things” is a specific object of contemplation; a view in which “reality” is used in an extensive (quantitative) sense—in other words, a monistic view of reality. As against this, there is the intensive view, the doctrine that “reality” has always the same meaning, that if we ask what is meant by a thing's (anything's) being real it doesn't matter whether we raise the question about a mind or about anything that is not a mind (so with any other concrete distinction)—the question of its being real would be exactly the same. This is denied by those who take a dualistic view, namely, that there are different kinds of reality or that there are higher and lower levels of reality—that there is ultimate reality and there is derivative reality (the “explaining” and the “explained”), as in the case of the Socratic theory of forms—the forms being the higher reality/realities—particulars being the lower or derivative reality/realities: a sort of view which is very largely derived from the Pythagorean school with its doctrine of units, as contrasted with the unlimited or boundless, and on the other hand with the things which the units compose, the figures (configurations). It is curious that, in Socrates at least, we should have a combination of this dualistic sort of view with a monistic view—a belief in higher and lower realities and at the same time a belief in a “scheme of things”, in an all-embracing reality. In fact that is the sort of doctrine that had already been refuted by the Eleatics in their criticism of the Pythagorean theory: they denied that reality can have different meanings, that if we recognise the ultimate we can also recognise the derivative in any status whatever (and also can recognise many ultimates). The differences between the ultimates cannot be accounted for consistently, because these differences themselves are not ultimate, and so we are left with the single reality (the One)

  ― 5 ―
view facsimile

as the only thing that can possibly exist, and the only thing that can possibly be thought or contemplated. This position could be described as a reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine (of the One; Eleaticism) itself, since it would imply that Parmenides or anybody else could not be thinking about the one reality since to say that he was thinking about it would be already to distinguish him from it. But while for such reasons Eleaticism cannot be maintained as a substantive philosophy it can still be a quite successful reductio ad absurdum of any dualistic doctrine, of the attempt to distinguish ultimate from derivative, primary from subsidiary, reality. (A number of interesting points in Republic connected with attempt to deal with things—with reality—in this way and it is not merely idle to consider that sort of view.)

Question of unity of virtue. We can see that this question would not present such extreme difficulties as the doctrine of the unity of reality. But we still have a very similar opposition between ways of understanding that unity and very similar difficulties about an “extensive” view of the matter—the view that all virtues are to be identified in the single entity Virtue. Still the same sort of difficulty as with unity of reality—opposition of extensive to intensive view of “unity of virtue”—according to the latter, we mean just the same when we call this or that virtuous or good (a single meaning of “this is good”) but we can still take virtue or goodness as a genus and distinguish species within this genus; just as we distinguish species within the genus man although we say that the meaning of “man” is the same in each case. (N.B. Complication by biological considerations: species as “race”: progeny.) We could take the view, of course, that in any kind there are different species without accepting the particular catalogue of “virtues” that appears in Republic and other dialogues (justice, wisdom, courage, temperance etc). We may consider that these were merely popular conceptions and that when we came to a scientific theory of ethics they would be modified or dropped altogether. But that is nothing at all against there being species of goodness and we can say that the doctrine of “unity” (singleness) is false in the case of goodness as it is elsewhere, or that if we accept the denial of species of good then the same could be done with any other subject and we just could not have theory at all. Unless we can say that things can be of the same kind and yet in some sense of different kind, we can't recognise different species of the same genus (can't recognise the relation of including and included) and that

  ― 6 ―
view facsimile

means that our theory would consist at best of mere identities—if indeed we were not compelled to admit that we could attach no definite meaning to our various conceptions. —Special reasons why Socrates believed in unity of virtue (namely, mandatoriness; or “rationalising of things”), special confusions in people's thinking about ethics that lead to this sort of “identification” or failure of distinction in the ethical field in particular. But whatever these reasons may be, when Socrates says there can be no real difference between one virtue and another because each of them is knowledge he is falling into the logical confusion referred to and is preventing himself from presenting a theory of ethics. He doesn't really escape by the method he adopts in Republic of taking all the special virtues as parts or aspects of the single or total virtue—though again that doctrine has interesting connections with his doctrine of a single or total reality.

There would be a similar clash in the conception of the unity of education. We could say that there is only one education in the extensive sense that all educations have the same subject or that there is a particular set of lessons which alone constitute education; or we could take the intensive view that there is only one thing meant by “education” (by learning or being educated) but that there still can be species of education, that we can distinguish kinds of education while still saying that “all kinds of education are the same” (are of one kind, are “education” in the same sense). But there is one caution that we have to observe—that although, if any genus has species, educational processes will have species, it is also possible to have ambiguity, to have different processes called educational, when actually they have very little in common; and though we can very often explain how the ambiguity arose or how the expression came to be used for such things of very different kinds, we are certainly not bound to hold that all the things that have been called education(s) or educational must be taken together as constituting a single subject. We may find, on the contrary, that inquiry will progress, that we shall get really systematic views, only by taking certain things as peculiarly educational and saying that other things which have come to be called educational are not properly so called. (The question of “central” or fundamental subjects or content—subjects that have priority in making or forming “the educated man”. Alternative view—cf. Sophists and democrats—is that any training is education, any acquisition is “being educated”. “He is an educated man; he has learned to play the flute.” Attempt (a) to take this “egalitarian” view, (b) to retain the “honorific” sense of education for such training—to have it as a mark of distinction while rejecting “exclusiveness”—classicism.)

  ― 7 ―
view facsimile


The type of problem Socrates tries to solve in Republic is similar to that of Phaedo. In Phaedo we are confronted with the theory of forms as a general logical theory (general and “honorific”!), as a way in which we can treat any particular problem; in fact, with a logic or a theory of being as such, namely, that the forms as (or?) universals are in some way the explanation of the particulars and that any science will be a setting forth of forms, of patterns or standards in terms of which we can get an account of the particular material which happens to constitute that field. The position is, then, that in Phaedo there is a certain conflict of views, or there are conflicting interpretations of the fundamental theory; and that in Republic there is an attempt to solve these difficulties, to present a development (of the theory), or a new conception, of forms in terms of which these difficulties could be overcome, so as to make possible the investigation of any field: this is the theory of functions presented at end of Book I and appearing again in Book IV as the solution of the problems that have already appeared.

The conflict of Phaedo can be presented thus. —In the early part of the dialogue, with special reference to the first argument for immortality, we have a view which is quite explicitly Pythagorean: we have the doctrine of approximation or imitation in which imperfect particulars are taken to approach more closely to the forms, to certain absolute patterns or standards, and in the latter part of the dialogue, in special connection with the third argument for immortality, we have the doctrine of participation—we have the conception of forms as being in some sense present in the particulars which we refer to by the name of the forms: things being called hot, e.g., because they have the form heat in them, and similarly with cold, etc. And this is referred to as Socrates' special contribution to the doctrine, as the way in which he goes beyond or improves upon the earlier theory which is Pythagorean. The difficulty here is that if the forms are really present in the things then we have no ground for distinguishing the forms as permanent or unhistorical realities from particulars as transient and historical realities, no ground for separating sensible from intelligible reality (or the world of becoming from the world of being—or vice versa) and for taking the one (sensible) as inferior to or dependent on the other (intelligible). It can be argued that the removal of this distinction is the only way in which Socrates can solve his problems, that in fact the denial of the opposition between being and becoming is the logical outcome of the Socratic argument particularly in the concluding part of the dialogue, in the third argument for

  ― 8 ―
view facsimile

immortality. But if we took that position we should simply have to deny forms altogether as entities distinct from particulars, and in maintaining the distinction Socrates can be taken as affirming that the forms are not mere predicates of the particulars, that they are something that accounts for the particular's having a certain predicate, that they are what “makes the particular what it is” but nevertheless has to be distinguished from the particular. And if we take that view, if the form is not the character or predicate of the particular but is the explanation of its having that character or predicate, then we haven't really gone beyond the doctrine of approximation or imitation, the doctrine of absolute standards or perfection which no particulars can reach, which was formulated by the Pythagoreans and that can be assumed in the early part of the dialogue, particularly in the doctrine of reminiscence. If this is the logical position, if we are not to regard the particular as embodying a certain perfection but only as approximating to the standard, “striving to attain it”, as Burnet puts it, then we are faced with difficulties illustrated by Burnet: other formulation of the doctrine (formulation of the later or modified doctrine—participation), namely, that a particular is a meeting-place of forms; i.e., if a thing has a plurality of characters, then it would seem that we are judging it by a variety of distinct standards or, in terms of the doctrine, striving, that the thing has to be regarded as “advancing in all directions”—even, if we accept the doctrine of opposite forms that is accepted (adopted) by Socrates in certain parts of the dialogue, that the thing is advancing in opposite directions.

The nature of the Socratic solution of the difficulty appears in Republic in the doctrine of functions or of harmony. The position now is, not that a thing has a mere plurality or multiplicity of characters but that it has some leading characters which indicates its function or the standard which it is striving to attain and that all the other characters are to be brought under the leading character, to be considered as parts or aspects of that character, so that if the leading character of any human being is taken to be his manhood then his other characters are to be considered and understood by reference to this manhood, as an articulation of his leading character so that while he might show a certain height and weight compared with (shared with?) things that are not human, his height and weight, even if regarded as unimportant, would have to be considered in reference to his leading character, would have to take their special significance

  ― 9 ―
view facsimile

from the fact that they were characters of a human being. Thus there would not be characters he had in common with non-human things; he would have no characters that would not be parts or aspects of his leading character—his humanity. (This is the doctrine of the concrete universal and is a denial of predication—or an assertion that predication is relative, subordinate, to something else—“ideas”, ideals.) In other words Socrates is supporting the theory of forms or trying to get over the difficulties by means of a doctrine of hierarchy, by the conception of an essential character in terms of which all other characters had to be understood and that is by the conception of function, of what gives meaning and unity within any given thing, what enables us to regard it as a single thing, as a harmonious whole, as having order in contrast to disorder. (cf. Joyce's aesthetics.) Thus as far as we could estimate—or pass a judgment of value on—any particular mind it would be in terms of what is called “single-mindedness”, in terms of a single or harmonious or systematic direction of all its activities. This is illustrated in the conception of the ideal soul, where other faculties are presented as subordinate to the faculty of reason, as having their function in relation to (or in terms of) its function: namely, the grasping of the true nature of things; and similarly in the case of the ideal State the function of the other classes is to be understood in relation to that of the ruling class, the guardians, who are concerned once again with the grasping of reality, with the understanding of the principle by which things are organised. It is understood that no actual soul and no actual State will ever reach this perfection, will reach a condition of (completely) harmonious relations, but the contention is that it is by reference to such absolute standards that the nature of any (actual) soul or State is to be understood, that we understand various degrees of disorganisation or discord by contrasting them with the ideal of absolute organisation and harmony. One difficulty that confronts us at the outset is what account we are to give of the degree of falling short of such an ideal (i.e., what we are to say of it as a character of something and thus as having a function or direction or good), why there should not be a principle of disorganisation or discord just as much as of organisation or harmony—or how the actual degeneration of souls and States, which Socrates admits, is to be explained in terms of a doctrine of particulars as striving towards their ideal condition: what we are to make

  ― 10 ―
view facsimile

of the admitted tendencies in the opposite direction. But allowing for this difficulty—even admitting that it is insoluble—allowing again that Socrates seems to think that from the mere conception of singleness of mind or of organised living we can derive the details of orderly life, it can still be said that Socrates is drawing attention to some of the difficulties of ordinary views, to the fact that conventional views of rectitude in particular (of what is the right way to behave) constantly fall into contradictions (multiple-mindedness), that the person whose views of what is right are derived from custom would be compelled at once to support and to oppose certain lines of action (both views of Cephalus as to what constitutes rectitude) and especially that such problems are bound to arise when we take an external view of virtue or rectitude, when we estimate it by its contributions to something else instead of by its own characters, instead of by its internal constitution or organisation. This is a point illustrated in the (Socratic) criticism of Polemarchus who carries on the argument and of Thrasymachus the Sophist, who raises further points of difficulty for Socrates (at least, makes certain objections to Socrates' views). (Both take “external” line, the line of “opinion”.) So that even if we regarded the Socratic theory of single-mindedness as altogether too simple, we might still allow that it leads us to see the confusion, the inevitable contradictions, in these (any) conventional views.


In connection with the question of unity (of soul, virtue, etc.) we have the sort of difficulty felt by Taylor in regard to the unity of the soul in particular. It is felt that the doctrine of the parts of the soul somehow detracts from the (its) unity as a whole and affects the conception of immortality, and similarly that the doctrine of the subsidiary virtues affects (detracts from) the unity of virtue. We find Taylor then suggesting that the soul is still conceived as essentially reason, that that which appears as one part or faculty in Republic is the true character of the soul, with wisdom as its virtue or as the true character of virtue, and that the conception of immortality, of the passage of the soul from the realm of becoming to that of being, from time to eternity, is one of the dropping of those subsidiary characters so that what is really immortal is the soul in its unity or purity, is the soul simply as reason. One objection to that is that the doctrine of the Republic is then pointless; it seems to demand a reversion to the simple view of the earlier ethical dialogues and, more particularly, it ignores the Socratic problem,

  ― 11 ―
view facsimile

the problem of finding a relation between the particular and the universal (cf. “soul” as third man, “universal-particular”) and especially finding an explanation of the plurality of the particular, the variety of characters that it has. It ignores the Socratic solution, the way in which Socrates thinks he has got over the difficulty, namely, by that doctrine of hierarchy or articulation we have referred to, by the attempt to treat the unity of the particular as something which resides in its plurality and not to treat unity as something apart from plurality. The point Socrates is trying to make by his doctrine of hierarchical organisation is to show what unity really is. And even if in doing so he cannot arrive at a consistent position (so long as he retains in any manner the distinction between forms and particulars) we can still say that he is drawing our attention to empirical material, that he is suggesting to us a real problem, the problem of the “more and less orderly” State and the more and less orderly soul. The problem in the latter case is of “single-mindedness”, of what we can call a coherent or integrated way of life even if we deny that in fact a complete harmony is possible, even if we insist that there will always be conflict in the “best-regulated” mind (as the phrase goes), that there will never be a single principle which illustrated or manifested in every feature or activity of a particular thing. Allowing then that the Socratic solution is defective for that sort of reason (not recognising the Heraclitean position that being is conflict or “tension”), still Socrates is directing our attention to real problems of mental and social theory—problems which are simply set aside and ignored by Taylor's conception of a purified and unified soul, a soul having absolute singleness or abstract unity, which might survive the present life. And if we take the political side of Republic (description of ideal State—from about middle of Book II—intended to serve as a model of the conception of the ideal soul) we can say that here again Socrates is drawing upon empirical or historical material, that he is presenting us with real questions of history even if his theory of the ideal prevents him from offering a satisfactory solution—i.e., even if it leads him to attempt to combine historical portrayal with features that on his own admission no actual society has or could have, especially this feature of being completely organised, of having a single character of which all other characters are subsidiary features, of having complete harmony. In order to understand the Socratic doctrine of the ideal (as in the conceptions of

  ― 12 ―
view facsimile

the ideal soul and the ideal State) we have again to think of Socrates as trying to get over difficulties in his dualism of universals and particulars, trying to meet objections to it and particularly the objection that there could be no sort of connection between the postulated higher and unhistorical reality and the lower and unhistorical reality, so that the former could never be what it is intended to be, an explanation of the latter.

One of the objections to the theory of forms (an objection of which Burnet gives some account) is that which is known as the “third man” argument, an argument deriving from Eleatic sources or from the school of Megara, influenced by Eleaticism—the primary point being that in trying to connect a form with a particular (say, humanity) or the form manhood with a particular man (as Socrates is trying to connect universal man with particular man) we are forced to postulate a “third” man between them and, the criticism would continue, even this fails to make the connection and we have to keep on inserting new terms in the new gaps without ever achieving continuity. We have to postulate the third man because if we have to postulate the perfect form for the particular, if we say that it is a standard which the particulars are trying to reach though they can never do so, then we are forced to form an intermediate conception of a perfect particular, i.e., the conception of something falling short of the standard would be unintelligible without the conception of reaching the standard. If we say that Socrates misses perfect manhood we have to contrast that with someone hitting perfect manhood, but if in this way we conceive a perfect particular, something that combines characteristics which we have said to be on the opposite sides of the division in reality then we are really undermining the division altogether. If a thing can be a perfect particular and yet perfect (can even be conceived to be particular and yet perfect), i.e., and yet of some character completely, then the reason for postulating forms or higher explanatory principles disappears. And if that is not so, if we haven't really broken down the division in this way, then (as said) we just have to multiply division and get a thoroughly confused theory.

The solution of the problem then is to abandon the division, to recognise that manhood is just being a man and that that is something we find in particular historical men, and not something standing over them. But just as in the earlier case of unity and plurality so here in the case of perfection and imperfection Socrates recognises the difficulty up to a point and is prepared to accept the third man not as an objection to his theory but as something which the theory has to make provision for,

  ― 13 ―
view facsimile

and the ideal State and ideal soul of Republic are examples of such “perfect particulars”, of this attempted solution. This of course would account for the fact that Socrates uses empirical material (actual social history, actual psychological processes) in building up his ideal conception. Now, apart from the general criticisms (of this type of view or conception) which have been sufficiently considered, there is the point that Socrates is actually falsifying empirical facts in introducing divergences between his ideal conception and actual history. He cannot in the least show how we can judge the historical by the ideal standard, how the conception of a society without conflict can help us in understanding the conflicts we always find in actual societies; and the very fact of setting up the ideal prevents the consideration of quite real and important problems about society and similarly about minds (see “The Meaning of Good” A.J.P.P., September 1942). If we avoid the identification of perfect (good?) character with an absolutely unreal unity and, instead of this, recognise a concrete and historical goodness, which the notion of “the ideal” might seem to be aiming at or at least from which it might derive some of its plausibility, then we have the definite historical problems of how the existence of actual goods, how their ways of proceeding or their types of organisation, affect society, considered simply as that which has organisation of an economic and political character, and we could in these terms consider the particular question how far there can be social continuance (the maintenance of any organised common life) without the operation within it of specific activities which are good; a question which is simply ignored if we fall back on the notion of unity (or absence of conflict). The question would be—how the operation of disinterestedness (exemplified in disinterested inquiry, disinterested artistic creation and so forth) is related to the operation of special interests—self-interest, group interest etc.—and whether there could be a society confined to such interested activity or there couldn't be interested activity unless there was also somewhere in the society disinterested activity. There is of course the question on the other side whether disinterested activity can itself exist except in meeting opposition, in overcoming obstacles; whether goods can exist except (as?) struggles with evils. Questions like these are simply ignored if we set out to conceive an ideal society in which there was nothing but goodness, disinterestedness, harmony, and if we try to take that unhistorical standard as the measure of historical society as that by reference to which they are estimated. Taking things in this way, Socrates must have an inadequate view of what good is as well as how it operates; whereas if we stick to actualities then we can get ahead with the real problems in ethics and politics. But admitting that shortcoming of the doctrine of ideals it is still the case that Socrates in Republic introduces us to real problems of mental and social organisation, problems of an empirical kind,

  ― 14 ―
view facsimile

and that it is of no service to him to try to fix on him as his fundamental conception the doctrine of abstract unity, like that of the pure soul or of pure reason, as contrasted with a plurality of “faculties”. (As against Taylor we can say that it is in articulation, in the harmony of different faculties, that Socrates takes the “unity” of the soul to consist.) note


Socratic logic—unity or harmony—one and articulated—has errors but important points. Difficulties of higher and lower realities. Socrates seemed to embrace the idea of a perfect particular. The “third man” argument can be applied to the soul, which consists of reason, spirit and desire—spirit playing the part of the third man. Reason purely calculating; desire purely passionate—mediation of spirit, which is both calculating and passionate. Once this intermediate (“faculty”) is postulated the other two are unnecessary; no need for a purely passionate or a purely calculating faculty. Once more (as with “perfect particular”) we have an intermediate factor to break down the division—which is no longer tenable.

In the introductory discussion I considered the unity of education and the unity of virtue to be bound up with the unity of reality (or logic) in the sense in which these things can be defended; and the position will be that even if we cannot identify education with logic or goodness with recognition of the logic of things, at any rate we can say that the three are closely connected. We can argue that critical thinking has an essential part to play both in the development of understanding and in the development of goodness, so that even if we might admit a goodness of conduct (in activities) which was distinct from the activity of critical inquiry, we might consider that it could not develop to any great extent in any community, and perhaps in any single mind, without the development of critical thinking, i.e., without the development of understanding of logic, without a rejection of dualistic views like the Socratic division between higher and lower realities and thus a rejection on the one hand of atomism, the doctrine of separate self-contained entities which are prior to any relation between them or situations in which they might stand, or again (on other hand?) a doctrine of totalism, of a completely integrated reality in which there is no strain or conflict, which might indeed be called a large-scale atomism; and this is very important in the theory of ethics and education, namely, the doctrine of the separate individual with his separate virtues,

  ― 15 ―
view facsimile

and in regard to education in particular and the rejection of such questions as “how shall we educate?” and “what shall I get out of education?”—the rejection of any external view, the notion of standing outside social processes and considering their desirability, a type of doctrine for which we have to substitute the conception of continuous processes or activities in which many people participate but which are to be distinguished by their own content or qualities and not by reference to who is interested in them: the point being that we cannot make out a case for critical thinking by showing how it subserves something else and we cannot make the adoption of it a matter of choice by persons not engaged in it, but rather there are in a society institutions and traditions of learning and it is from them that further activity of learning flows, and it is not a question of assigning an origin or outcome of such activities in terms other that those of learning itself. We cannot say that Socrates entirely avoids individualistic views or that he entirely avoids external views, the estimation of things by their origin or outcome rather than by their own character, rather than by what can be found working within them. But in the main it is such external views which he is concerned to attack; and that is the main lesson for us of dialogues such as Republic. You could say that the direction of the ethical dialogues is internal—to get at the “innards” (of things). Socrates attacks Sophistic and popular (instrumental) views of things.

The Republic starts from popular views. The old man Cephalus puts forward the view that justice is giving to a man what is due to him, and Polemarchus endeavours to sustain that position, with a certain amplification, after Socrates has indicated that it has the type of defect he is constantly referring to as that of “opinion”, namely, that of leading us into contradictions, involving us in ambiguities. (Note that “Justice” has acquired a social and political sense. But the Greek word has no special social sense—merely rectitude, right conduct: primarily a personal sense: which is in accordance with the view that this is an ethical treatise. Cf. Taylor.) For Socrates the ethical was primary but it must be considered in relation to social life—question of the right, good, virtuous way to act. Socrates brings out at once the ambiguity of “what is due to a person” and shows that to render what is due to a person (according to popular notions) would involve one in a conflict—just as he shows in beginning of Euthyphro the conflict between two conceptions of what would be the pious thing for Euthyphro to do in his situation (i.e., conflict between two popular opinions). And while this is his regular line, we could also say that the definition is circular, that it means that justice is giving everyone what it is just to give him or

  ― 16 ―
view facsimile

that right conduct is doing the right thing by everyone—which would scarcely be informative. However, the main difference from this position is that Socrates goes on to take up in argument with Polemarchus the question of the notion of rendering: if right conduct consists in rendering something to someone (which is an external view of virtue) then the question arises what is it that it does render, what is passed from one to another by means of virtuous conduct. Polemarchus says that justice renders what is appropriate to the recipient and that what is appropriate to our friends is good or benefit, and what is appropriate to our enemies is evil or injury, so that is rendering good to friends and evil to enemies. Socrates proceeds to bring out the uncritical character of this view, its being mere opinion, by raising a number of difficulties—again parallel to those of Euthyphro.

First of all he brings out the weakness of “opinion” in our possible mistakes on the subject of friends and enemies: i.e., taking it roughly that a friend is a person who will act beneficially towards us and an enemy is a person who will act harmfully towards us, so that justice is rendering good for good and evil for evil, the position will be complicated if we draw the line wrongly between friends and enemies—we shall then be rendering evil to those who render us good and good to those who render us evil, so that we have a contradiction, conflict or ambiguity in the position: we have in fact conflicting notions of what constitutes a friend and what an enemy. Socrates is indicating the looseness of Polemarchus' expression. More exact knowledge is necessary; but then again Socrates questions whether it is ever appropriate to render evil to anyone, friend or enemy, because, as he argues elsewhere, to injure a person or do him harm can only mean to make him a worse man, therefore it can never be a good thing to make a person bad or to make him worse than he was before.

These considerations lead on to a more direct attack on the whole external view of justice or rectitude, the view of right (justice?) as a techne or art, as a skill or developed aptitude for producing results of a particular kind. And here Socrates argues in two ways: first, that an art is a “capacity of opposites”, that the skill manifest in producing certain results is the same as that used in averting that result or producing the opposite result (a doctor is the best poisoner: i.e., the person with the greatest skill in preserving life has the greatest skill in destroying life); and it is not a view that Polemarchus any more than Socrates is prepared to maintain, that justice would be

  ― 17 ―
view facsimile

manifested equally in producing such opposite results. Secondly, Socrates argues that the field of arts or technical skills is fully occupied, with no special place left for the art of justice or fair dealing, that for any particular purpose we might have in mind we should call in the aid of a man with a special skill, but we should never take justice alone, being particularly versed in justice alone, as qualifying a man to give us whatever technical advice or assistance we wanted.

What lies behind these Socratic criticisms of course is the rejection of external views of good conduct and the supporting of an internal view, the view of it as a certain character or organisation of mind and not the estimation of it by things outside the mind itself which it brings about. Socrates does not make this point fully at this stage, though he approaches it, at end of Book I, in the theory of functions. A considerable amount of the subsequent Books is devoted to showing what the character of that organisation is. What Socrates is specially concerned to do in arguing with Polemarchus is to show that the external view, the consideration of justice as rendering something outside itself, cannot be coherently maintained—not at least coherently with what are commonly held, and incidentally held by Polemarchus himself, to be essential characters of justice.


Right order. Socrates' criticism of Polemarchus:-

(a) Question of the field of justice. The field of skills already taken up—no place for justice or at best a trivial one (ironically suggested).

(b) A skill as a “capacity of opposites” (person good at keeping safe would be also good at misappropriating).

(c) “Opinion”—distinction between people we think are our friends and those who really are our benefactors.

(d) “Doing harm”—not the part of a just man to injure anybody—this would be making him worse as a man (less just).

On “opinion”, cf. Euthyphro. Polemarchus is confronted with the ambiguity of his position—“friends” as (a) those who really are our benefactors, (b) those we think are well-disposed to us, those we call friends; he attempts to combine the criteria and leaves a number of unsettled (or uncertain) cases, just as Euthyphro is in passing from god-loved to loved by all gods (i.e., in combining criteria pleasing gods and not displeasing gods). Socrates, in Republic as in Euthyphro, does not press this point but goes on to more fundamental

  ― 18 ―
view facsimile

point—notion of “doing harm” (like notion of relativism). (Taylor on unity of dialogue. Inconclusiveness of Book I parallel to that of earlier dialogues. Question of successive versions of Republic: (a) Book I as “Socratic dialogue”, (b) addition of II-IV (and VIII and IX?), (c) interpolation of V, VI, VII—continuity of argument from IV to VIII. Belief in several versions doesn't imply that each version wouldn't have a certain unity. Question of modification of earlier material when later material added. Theory of functions in Book I—whether added or not—as in a manner the theme of the work; nothing against an early suggestion of this type of view and a fuller working out later; certain main characteristics of Socratic (?) outlook, recurring themes, parts or aspects of a position. No dialogue, or version of a dialogue, intended to be a finished treatise: raising of certain major points, indication of how we could go about settling them—would be some of main considerations and arguments in doing so.)

We can say that, while it doesn't do so explicitly, the argument with Polemarchus does in effect bring out the circularity of the definition offered—in this way that justice, instead of being regarded as a special skill, should be regarded as standing above or qualifying the exercise of a particular skill; however skilful anyone may be in rendering something or other there would still be the question whether it was justly rendered, whether he was exercising skill under right circumstances, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right way, etc.—so that technical considerations leave the ethical or moral question unsettled. In other words the rightness of the act will not be a function of its technical character and any definition offered in technical terms would have to be supplemented explicitly or implicitly by moral description so that the definition would become circular, and what exactly is and is not just would be no clearer than before. Such considerations would apply to definitions of the right act which say that it has to be done in the right way, at the right time, for the right duration and to the right amount. (cf. Aristotle's treatment of good conduct as a mean between extremes, as hitting the mark where there are various ways of missing the mark. This doctrine is of Pythagorean origin: notion of the right proportion: also, in Republic, notion of harmony among the “parts of the soul”—most specifically applies in Book IV where Socrates is considering different parts of virtue: e.g., courageous conduct is drawing the line in the right place between what should and what should not be feared.)

  ― 19 ―
view facsimile

Argument with Thrasymachus . We can say that, at this point, definitely political considerations enter—considerations which bulk large in the remainder of the dialogue, whether or not we accept the common view that the organisation, the State is the real subject of the whole work. While in the remaining part of Book (IV?) we can find many confusions on the part of Thrasymachus who (as represented by Plato) does not put up a good case against Socrates, there are yet serious confusions in the arguments of Socrates also, and the points made by the brothers Glaucon and Adimantus, at the beginning of Book II, leading on to the discussion of the ideal State, at least imply that Socrates has not fully developed the conception of agreement or harmony on which his argument depends, that he has seemed to argue that because the just is harmonious the harmonious is just (to identify justice with the “abstract” notion of harmony or unity), and if, as we may take to be the case, he considers that the just is the only harmonious thing, that only in justice can we have harmony or agreement, he needs to make more of an explanation and defence of that position, and this we may take as what the rest of the dialogue is trying to do (as, firstly, what Glaucon and Adimantus are demanding—to show what harmony or justice is concretely].

One way of expressing the opposition of views is to say that Thrasymachus accuses Socrates of being unrealistic, of not recognising the actual facts of human life, especially public or political life, and when, after the further development of difficulties by Glaucon and Adimantus, Socrates makes his appeal to the ideal State, he may be said to be confirming the unrealistic character of his view; and if, as he argues, nothing short of complete harmony is justice, while yet admitting that all actual States fall short of this complete harmony, then, he would have to say in consistency, his account of degeneration of States applies to all historical States, that all States do in fact continually get worse, more inharmonious—a position which would be obviously very hard to sustain especially in regard to how they ever got started in a better condition. And his use of the ideal State as the standard, or measuring-rod, for historical States is not merely without point of connection with history but confuses the question of the occurrence in actual States of justice or goodness (or culture) and the conditions under which it (goodness) can and does maintain itself in the face of antagonistic forces with the question of the continuance of States. Very little of this may be clear to Thrasymachus but at least he is drawing attention to the conflict of interests as a universal social and political fact and so far supporting the view that to imagine a State without conflict

  ― 20 ―
view facsimile

gives us no line on the actual conflicts we encounter. He is drawing attention to the question-begging character of notions like “the rule of law” or even the broad notion of community, and this is a question any social or political theorist must consider—i.e., the facts of conflict must be considered; and if he merely says it is better that there should be no conflict, that is no answer.

The attack of Callicles on Socrates (in Gorgias) follows a similarly realistic line, even if both Thrasymachus and Callicles have many simple-minded unhistorical views. But the two positions together, as with Burnet and Taylor (Burnet reducing the distinction between them to the curious and tenuous contrast of “might is right” and “right is might”), does not seem to be well-founded. Callicles is also aware of social conflicts, but the social fact he is specially concerned with is the fact of leadership—the hierarchical character developed by communities, and the appearance in the course of this development of a special class of politicians, formulators of programmes and leaders of public movements.


Conflict as characterising any society whatever; Socrates indulging in mere phantasy when he constructs an unreal society and uses it as a standard for judging real societies: i.e., he overlooks the inquiring mind's relation to real societies. Callicles, like Thrasymachus, is realistic: leadership a real feature of organised societies (just as conflict is). Principle of harmony put forward by Socrates in Gorgias just as in Republic. (Republic, like Phaedo, as series of “aggressions”—greater efforts on part of Socrates to grapple with problem—namely, of “unity”. Question whether, from idealist point of view, he doesn't get further and further away from it: or from demonstrating “unity of things”. —Notice the feeble and pedantic humour of Book I: “shave a lion” etc.)

Thrasymachus expresses great impatience with way in which Socrates and Polemarchus defer to one another, seem anxious to come to agreement instead of baldly (boldly?) maintaining their own position in spite of criticism. Sticking to your own view as particular case of sticking to your own interest, instead of serving another's interest—views as part of interest, as expressions of claims or demands (humanism/instrumentalism). No doubt a person who affirms a view through thick and thin will often be put in a very bad position in a dialectic encounter such as Plato represents Socrates as engaging in with various people. No doubt the search for meaning(s) or implication(s) would often lead such a person into difficulties, into views

  ― 21 ―
view facsimile

that he could not seriously maintain; but the fact remains that Socrates, who, as Thrasymachus points out, avoids putting up a position of his own to be examined, is in fact upholding views which would not stand up to the same sort of criticism as he himself employs, which contain sophistries and ambiguities, e.g., on his whole conception of the subject-matter of ethics (though this is not brought out in the dialogue but stays concealed). Considerable doubt whether the real Thrasymachus would have been so easily put down, though it is possible (certain?) that Sophists could not do so well in short answers (as in long speeches).

Thrasymachus begins by challenging Socrates to give his own definition of justice and says “Don't dare to tell me that it is the obligatory or the expedient or the profitable or the lucrative or the advantageous, for I will not have any rubbish of that kind from you.” The sort of problem that Thrasymachus is pointing to is one that also arises in connection with the ethics of G. E. Moore—especially with Moore's doctrine that good is indefinable; the general suggestion being that if we define an ethical term in ethical terms then we get a mere identity, something uninformative (“what is worthwhile is worthwhile”) whereas if we define it in non-ethical terms, if we define it as a natural object (as Moore would say) then we are taking away its ethical character, we are leaving ethics without a distinctive subject-matter. But the ground of this contention is to be found in the conception of good as mandatory, as something that imposes an imperative on us, something prescriptive and not merely descriptive. And the position as regards Socrates (and similarly Moore) is that he amalgamates, or attempts to amalgamate, in the notion of goodness—or in the conception of any ethical term—the prescriptive and the descriptive. He wants to hold that good is a certain kind of thing and yet that to call anything of this kind is to attribute to it a certain prescriptive force. That is certainly a confused position; but this confusion runs right through Socrates' ethics and nothing is done here or elsewhere to remove it. Still it is that confusion that Thrasymachus is pointing to, and what he is indicating is that anything we can call a prescription or command is just a relation among human beings and there is no reason for thinking that a positive quality of goodness enters into the case at all—at least there may be many cases of a command by one person to another which doesn't affect ethics, just as, if we admit badness as well as goodness, there may be many commands obedience to which would

  ― 22 ―
view facsimile

encourage badness. The point is that, allowing that there are positive goods, the question of their occurrence and the question of their issuing or acceptance of commands are two distinct positive questions (or questions of fact). That point is implicit in what Thrasymachus says even though Socrates was not cross-questioned on his position (his belief in mandatoriness, his amalgamation of quality and relation).

In spite of his challenge to Socrates Thrasymachus is prevailed upon to give his own definition of justice, and he defines it as “what is advantageous to the stronger” (Lindsay—perhaps better than Jowett's version (“the interest of the stronger”) since in the English expression “advantage” we can see a certain ambiguity which is important for the discussion; which permits Socrates more easily to refute the contention of Thrasymachus than he could otherwise do: the getting of an advantage can simply mean the acquiring of some commodity, coming to possess certain goods (not in the ethical sense) which we did not possess before (that is the advantage we could get out of certain activities); on the other hand, there is the use of the expression to mean getting “an advantage over” some other person—i.e., we have the notion of over-reaching somebody—and it is by concentrating on the second meaning that Socrates is able to make a number of critical points.

After some preliminary talk Thrasymachus explains that what he means by “the stronger” is the ruler (the governing agency in a society whether tyrant, or group or party) and the meaning of the whole formula is that the ruler lays down laws for the subjects to obey, and this obedience, which is called “just conduct”, is to the ruler's advantage. Just as in the case of Polemarchus Socrates attacks this formula by raising the question of “opinion”, by making the distinction between what the ruler thinks will be to his advantage and what will really be to his advantage, for if it be granted that the ruler can make mistakes then the conduct he prescribes, obedience to the laws he lays down, will be to his disadvantage and so will not be just according to the formula. That would mean that in order to benefit the ruler the subject would have to break the law(s) in certain instances; but that would mean that, even if the outcome was to his advantage, it was their will and not his that had decided what the outcome would be—so that he would no longer be “the stronger”, the person who decided what was to be done. On each side (obedience which was to his disadvantage; disobedience which was to his advantage) the formula breaks down.

Thrasymachus takes the same way out as Polemarchus (and Euthyphro) did—he combines the two criteria; he takes as “ruling” the case where the ruler is obeyed

  ― 23 ―
view facsimile

and the obedience is to his advantage—thus, as in previous cases, failing to cover the field, leaving a number of instances where we should be uncertain what the just behaviour is. But as before (Polemarchus, Euthyphro), Socrates does not insist on this point. What he does is to take this as an admission that ruling is an art or techne, the exercising of a certain kind of skill, and to point out that if securing obedience is a particular art, then it is a distinct art from that of securing one's advantage (if the latter is an art at all) and that our judgment of the artificer's skill will be determined by reference to the subjects (in general, by reference to subject-matter or material worked on) and not by reference to the ruler (the artificer). But then he goes on to make a point which Thrasymachus quite needlessly accepts though he afterwards goes back on it; he goes on to maintain that our judgment of skill in the given art is determined by reference to the good of the subject(s), not to the good of the artificer—a contention in which Socrates seems to be forgetting his own account of an art as a capacity of opposites, his identification of the one skilled at making things better and the one skilled at making things worse. All he should say is that by observing the material worked upon we know if the person is a good artificer or not, but the question of any good or advantage for the subject-matter does not arise, and plainly could not arise in the case of subject-matter which was inanimate as it is in many arts or exercises of technical skill.


(In changing from his first to his second view, Thrasymachus gives even more of an opening to the Socratic line of criticism of his first formulation, depending on the notion of “over-reaching” or getting advantage over someone.)

While we might recognise technical skill by reference to subject-matter, this has nothing to do with any “good” (benefit) of the subject-matter. Socrates confuses estimating a worker's skill by the effect of his work on what he works and estimating it by the good he does to what he works on. (An “art” is the mastery of certain material.) But Thrasymachus is also confused when he says that the good shepherd is looking after not the interest of the sheep but his own interest; the skill of shepherds would be estimated by the effect he produces on the sheep, though the “good” sheep which he could produce by the exercise of his skill would be “good” not as possessors of some ethical character (or as “enjoying” some good activity) but as meeting current demands—an external, not an internal “goodness”.

  ― 24 ―
view facsimile

This discussion of ruling assumes a complete opposition between ruler and subjects—judging ruler from his achievements on the subjects. Some sort of view sometimes taken of education: an “art” or operation on certain material: “educational skill” in carrying out such operations. If that is taken to be a weak view of education, this will be because education is not a techne in this sense. If we take education as learning, then even if there is a distinction between the teacher and the taught, the progress of education depends on participation, (on the fact that) teacher and taught have common interests and are both learning. Education in a special sense—the learning of certain leading subjects. The broadest sense of education is learning in the sense of getting to know and have a grasp of things. If there is that opposition (distinction between “having learned” and “being learnèd”), education can be set on a level above that of a mere techne (namely, lore, being learnèd, being in possession of “learning”). On the political side, similar questions come in (rejection of ruling as techne); the question is not, in political society, of an absolute distinction between rulers and subjects—there is a variety of common (shared) interests, movements and causes to which people are devoted; even if there is no such thing as “the” interest of the people, you can have a society. The rejection of ruling as techne is connected with this notion of social life. The views of Callicles raise the question of leadership in political life as well as in education; leadership doesn't (or needn't) mean the existence of someone “on the top” who imposes his views. Callicles is directing attention to the point of leadership (function of leadership?) which Socrates neglects even though he (Socrates) rejects Thrasymachus' view that the ruler operates in his own interest. What Socrates substitutes for the notion of oppression (of the ruler taking advantage of his subjects) is the notion of benevolent despotism. You can say that in the scheme presented in Book IV there is a question of wise men laying down laws political or educational indicating what studies the pupils will have, and although there is some participation it does not seem that the industrial class is to be educated at all. Teachers (“Guardians”) moulding minds to have certain interests. When you come to Book VII it is still a question of the prescription from above of certain requirements and although some scope is given for intellectual spontaneity it is a question (?) that is laid down by wise men, people who have come to be in the ruling position,

  ― 25 ―
view facsimile

and this is opposed to participation to learning. The scheme is not one of education in the sense of learning.

In the Ethics the question is of the “good for man” (or human good) as contrasted with absolute good; it is the good that can be legislated for. The major question in the Ethics is not about what is good but about some external conditions of good: not “the good way of life” itself—you cannot legislate for that: you can by legislation remove obstacles to the occurrence (or activity) of such minds but you cannot legislate for the production of them: (all you can do) is provide the conditions under which a good life can be led. These conditions are (amount to) the existence of social order: ignoring the fact that there are different types of order. But at least Aristotle's position has the advantage over Socrates' that, whereas Socrates is suggesting that the order is everything (orderliness (harmony) as the positive content or substance of the good life), Aristotle takes it as a condition of goodness in the positive sense (the removal of obstacles, the “hindrance of hindrances”, to such positive activity). The objection to Aristotle's view is that “good for man” is unintelligible if there is a good without qualification; can't talk of things which are “good as means” and things which are “good in themselves”. Also view that there is only one type of order against view that there are many types of order (with the qualification that there is disorder) (i.e., certain things—activities, demands—that are opposed to any kind of order: against political society, and so against culture, as such). Socrates' search for ideal perfection is connected with the “above to below” scheme; confusion in this position—you are never going to get the ideal (it has nothing to do with actualities, historical things). If doctrine of ideal is accepted, you get a corresponding sense of “education”—the object of education is to help people to attain that perfection. But then you are neglecting the actual struggle not only in society but even in educational institutions themselves (education itself as a struggle), so that we have educational and anti-educational tendencies, conflict of the educational with the anti-educational in any “educational” institution. No one can stand aside from the educational scheme and say (ab extra) “this is education or not education” (in abstracto). It is only because he is immersed in certain educational or cultural tendencies that he can stand (take up a position) at all. Class of trends (social, historical); no starting from scratch (away from history; “working from first principles”) (cf. Matthew Arnold).

  ― 26 ―
view facsimile

Second part of argument with Thrasymachus. Thrasymachus supplements his view that justice is the interest of the stronger (the ruler) by saying that justice or just behaviour is attending to the advantage of others and injustice is attending to our own, and that the unjust life is to be preferred to the just life in everything; it is better, stronger and wiser than the just life which, he says, is fit only for simpletons. By emphasising the notion of outdoing (or overreaching) Socrates is able to argue quite plausibly that injustice is less wise, strong and good than justice. As regards wisdom he points out that the wise don't try to outdo one another, that they are all guided by or are aiming at what is objectively the case; so that a number of pupils (artists? or simply persons?) skilled in music, e.g., will not try to outdo one another in tuning an instrument but will try to get a proper relationship of notes, will work in terms of what objectively are harmonious intervals. Then as regards strength Socrates suggests that the unjust man being absolutely alone and opposed to everyone else will not be in a strong position: he argues that even a band of thieves is successful only in so far as there is justice among the thieves, as far as they have common rules which they obey. And then as regards injustice being better Socrates considers that the unjust soul, that which operates entirely on the principle of overreaching or outdoing, will be at war with itself, that every mental tendency will try to outdo the others (there will be no principle of adjustment among them, no general determinant of “limits”), and so the unjust person, as contrasted with the person who has harmony in his soul, will be not only weak but miserable. We can see that Socrates is still taking the line that because justice involves agreement, agreement involves justice; we can see also that he is simply assuming the functional principle, the principle of harmony in terms of hierarchy of characters, where he is not only doing nothing to solve the logical problem, to show how all the other characters can be subordinate to or can be aspects of the leading character, but he is also, if this is his logical view, unable to account for disorganisation and conflict, for the absence of such harmony or hierarchy from, as he must admit, a great many if not all minds. The problem is just an example of what is called “the problem of evil”, the problem of how evil can exist if we take goodness (which is for Socrates harmony) to be in some sense the principle of reality. But this is never gone into in this dialogue; the question that is taken up by Glaucon and Adimantus in Book II is the question of agreement—the question whether there is such an absolute agreement as Socrates is postulating or whether, on the contrary, limited agreement, agreement for certain purposes and under special conditions, is not the most that we ever find or could find in social (human) life.

  ― 27 ―
view facsimile


In this part of the dialogue—Books II-IV—Socrates begs the question. The principle of function is finally “discovered” as the mark of virtue (or of “the ideal”) but it has been at the bottom of his whole exposition of the organisation of the (ideal) State—and similarly of the soul. The exposition has thus been developed in a dogmatic and unrealistic way, and Socrates has been able to get away from important questions (of the correlation of soul and State)—by assuming that harmony always goes with functional organisation (so that soul and State must be in harmony with one another). The doctrine of the various functions is not (as it purports to be) the outcome of (consideration of) the necessities of State and soul, but comes from the Pythagorean doctrine of the “three lives”, illustrated by the types of people who attend the Olympic games—those who come to buy and sell, those who come to compete, and those who come to look on. It is on this distinction that the distinction of the three classes in the State (and the special character of each) is based: i.e., three main classes—guardians, auxiliaries, industrial class—though there are subdivisions (especially of the last). The division of the soul is made in correspondence with this—the dominant character of each of the three types of mind recognised by the Pythagoreans is put forward as a particular part or “faculty” of the mind. (Connection of all this with the doctrine of “the mean”.)

The brothers Glaucon and Adimantus are dissatisfied with the answer Socrates has given to Thrasymachus: they do not think he has really shown justice to be superior to injustice in the way in which these attitudes have been conceived in the discussion but that further argument is needed (i.e., question whether Socrates has made out his “internal” view or has really been taking an “external” view of justice and injustice.) They think especially that it has not been shown that there is any such thing as the ideal or all-comprehending harmony postulated in Socrates' account of justice—that there is any perfect or total harmony or agreement. The prevailing (current, Sophistic) view is rather that there are only conditional agreements—agreements limited in scope and for particular purposes. Indeed the suggestion is that all social organisation is of this kind, that it is some special arrangement entered into by parties of diverse interests, that it is a compromise or external adjustment among such interests. And since there is no question of a final unity of interests, any given adjustment will always be precarious or subject to change, and there will be no reason for calling a new adjustment, a new way in which interests are balanced in relation to one another, any more (absolutely) just or unjust than a (the) (any) previous adjustment.

  ― 28 ―
view facsimile

This, Glaucon thinks, is a common view, and he is challenging Socrates to show that this view is false, to show that there really is, behind all superficial conflicts, a fundamental unity of interests (“common good”, “social welfare”) and that a society could be so organised as to bring out that unity, as to eliminate conflict and exhibit perfect harmony or agreement (and, similarly, that any thing could be so organised, could have its qualities interrelated in that hierarchical fashion, characters subordinate to a “leading character”, that is postulated in Socrates' logical doctrine, in the development of the “theory of forms” into a theory of functions). And in taking up that challenge Socrates loses sight of the main issue that the common view would force on us, namely, that questions of ethics and questions of politics are not the same, and that even if we took an external view of political justice (i.e., regarded it as a compromise or adjustment among opposing interests) we should not be compelled to take the same view of ethical justice (i.e., goodness): we might still be able to maintain that in certain types of activity there was real cooperation or communication (“unity”), without any attempt at over-reaching. It might be said indeed that we could maintain that all the better if we regarded such activities as occupying only part of social life and taking in only some members of society instead of looking for a state of affairs in which nothing but communication and unity of interests (was) to be found. Under these circumstances, indeed, types of activity having the ethical character of goodness would be one of the social forces among which a political adjustment (political justice) was established, would be forces with certain rights or powers within a general scheme of distribution (apportionment: Moira) of powers, i.e., within a “polity” or political community. (N.B.. Question whether, allowing for criticism of ordinary—or idealist—conceptions of “social unity”—sacred union, it is in fact possible to take a merely external view of political adjustment: to regard the interests as merely diverse—atomic. Types of “community”, degrees or ranges of pervasiveness, even although there are also fundamental conflicts—always some compromise or externality in social arrangements, in the “political structure” or “scheme of justice”: cf. fact that the very notion of Moira, apportionment, involves some “unity” of scheme—a scheme)—“a” community.)

  ― 29 ―
view facsimile

Glaucon is quite right (even though he does not stress that view—namely, distinction between ethics and politics) in finding the answer to Thrasymachus unsatisfactory, because the life of justice which Socrates found to be wiser and stronger and better than the life of injustice has been exhibited as only obedience to law, and merely law-abiding persons are not shown thereby (by being law-abiding) to be wise and strong. If they are not entirely at the mercy of a ruler as Thrasymachus had argued, at least they are so to a considerable extent and in fact they are persons moved by opinion in the Socratic sense, they have the habit or custom of obedience, they have no scientific knowledge of politics whereby their actions might be defended, they do not show themselves to be any better than those who have the habit or custom of disobedience. That is, “justice” in them has not been shown as anything positive or concrete; they have not been shown to follow any “way of life”, their behaviour has only been treated externally—or negatively, as exhibiting “absence of conflict”—though it may be questioned whether Socrates, anywhere in this dialogue, gets beyond an external account, gives a concrete account, of justice. Glaucon is right—Socrates has a real problem to face, or he hasn't fully met the question that was asked him. And even if he now answers it in a Utopian or unrealistic manner, at any rate a more fundamental question is brought into the open—even though the most fundamental question (the question of the distinction between ethics and politics, the question of the actual or possible place of good activities within a system of rights, a distribution of social powers—and again of the special forms of organisation like educational institutions, in which these features, good activities—or their place in a political system, are embodied) is covered up rather than brought out. The confusion between ethical and political questions, between goodness and “justice” or adjustment, stands out plainly, even though it is not noticed by the other participants in the dialogue, at the beginning of Book II when Socrates distinguishes between three kinds of good things: (1) those which are said to be good in themselves, not for their effects; (2) those which are said to be good for their effects, not in themselves, and (3) those which are said to be good for both reasons—both good in themselves and good for (in, on account of) their effects.

  ― 30 ―
view facsimile

The issue between Socrates' position, and that taken up (for the sake of argument) by Glaucon, on justice is between the second and the third of these possibilities—whether justice is an unpleasant necessity (something we dislike in itself but want for what it promotes or brings about) or, as Socrates wants to say, is both “good in itself” and “good on account of its effects”; and it is in the ambiguity of goodness here that the difficulties of Socrates' position (especially in his not distinguishing between politics and ethics) are concealed, because if we regard goodness as a quality it is quite absurd to call something “good not because of its quality but because of its effects”, even if its effects are themselves good. Also, it is because he still treats goodness relationally that Socrates cannot give a thorough demonstration of what goodness (justice) is “internally”, “in the soul of its possessor”—i.e., that he doesn't get free from an external view of it, and, though giving at least one outstanding example of goodness in the life of inquiry, presents its “value” as residing in its efficacy in producing order—assuming that it does produce order and, in particular, that “order” has a single and definite meaning. Thus a thing's goodness is always treated as pointing beyond the thing itself; and the goodness of inquiry is not exhibited apart from its dominating a society and in spite of the obstacles it has to face—and the consideration that it couldn't dominate a society and that it exists only in struggling with obstacles (and that this is the case with any goods) is not even raised. It is absurd to think that having good effects somehow enhances the goodness of a given form of good activity, makes it “have” goodness in a fuller or ampler way than if it did not have these effects. And as far as the notion of “good as means” is concerned, it depends not on a qualitative but on a relational view of goodness (as “satisfying, that which satisfies, our desires” or as “the satisfaction of our desires”, the successful carrying through of some policy or project).

It is in taking goodness in a relational sense that Socrates makes it appear to be something that enters into all human affairs and to be something with which all human beings are concerned. And this makes it easier for him to maintain a doctrine of general or unifying good (a general or unifying good? The form of the good). But this is done at the expense of its content.

  ― 31 ―
view facsimile

If good is not a distinctive kind of thing, then all we can say is that under certain circumstances or conditions, activity A reaches satisfaction and activity B does not—while under others the reverse is the case. But this would not be a matter of any theoretical interest and would in particular raise no ethical issue—and even in Socrates' terms it would not enable us to talk of justice and injustice. It would be no more just if A got better than (got the better of, got more satisfaction than) B than if B got more than A. It is only because he is still intent on smuggling in a certain qualitative distinction (a distinction among kinds of lives, good and bad) that Socrates is able to make it appear that he is still dealing with ethical issues. But at the same time, because of this critical confusion, he is unable to settle the question; he is involved in the spurious doctrine of unity in a community as contrasted with the real communication or mutual assistance (of goods) as one feature or one set of features in a complex society, a society in some ways unified and in some ways divided.


We have in the position presented by Glaucon in Book II, and supported to some extent by Adimantus, the notion of justice as a painful necessity, something not good or desirable in itself but having desirable results. In fact we have in Republic for the first time in literature (or in surviving literature; presumably a doctrine fairly wide-spread among Sophists and possibly occurring in such writings as they produced—Antiphon?) a doctrine of the social contract type, the notion of the formation of a society by an agreement on the part of members to forgo certain advantages on condition that they avoided certain disadvantages, i.e., oppression by other members of society. In other words we have the assumption that society is something artificial (nomoi), that it consists in a certain external arrangement among competing interests (an assurance of a certain amount—degree—of satisfaction of demands—i.e., a doctrine of the absoluteness of demands: that demands are physei—or are the physis of man.

  ― 32 ―
view facsimile

And the regular form of criticism of any social contract theory is that it implies a pre-existing society in which such agreements could have force (could “run”—or could be formulated, could be recognised as running), that unless there were a pre-existing society no one could propose or accept contractual relations of the suggested kind (no one would have the notion of a “binding agreement” or of giving or receiving “sanctions”). The criticism, then, of the sort of view put up by Glaucon is that it begs the question—not merely that it presents us with an artificial or external view of what is meant by “justice” but that it presents as the origin (“foundation”) of society something that is intelligible only within an existing society.

But it is important to note that the account which Socrates proceeds to give of an ideal society, one in the construction of which “social necessities” are taken account of, is equally unhistorical and equally involves an external view of society; it envisages the “foundation of society” in terms which are intelligible only by reference to a previously existing society—in terms especially of a division of labour, a distinction of functions (of occupations or trades) which could only have grown up within some general form of social organisation. Socrates suggests, e.g., that we could have such specialists as farmers or agriculturists on the one hand, and shoemakers or, more generally, producers of apparel on the other, each of whom would be able to satisfy the others' demands. But once more it is only within society that such trade specialities could grow up. And if we put forward the hypothesis of the existence of various specialists of this kind who came together to form a society, to meet general social requirements, then firstly this is an external relationship—it is a question of adjustment(s) between different interests and not of any real community of interests—and secondly the position is unhistorical in that it is only within society that such specialities do develop and we could never take them to have been developed prior to the existence of society.

If we consider what could be meant by a primitive society (particularly a tribal society) then it seems that the only tenable view is that the distinction of types of (social) activity is a distinction among the possible directions of the general tribal resources, that it is not a question of specialists in one line or another but rather of the tribe as a whole applying its energies in different

  ― 33 ―
view facsimile

directions according to the needs of the moment (apportionment of energies or resources: Moira)—sometimes to cultivation (general cycle of sowing and reaping), sometimes to defence (protection of tribe against hostile forces), etc. And it is only at a later stage that we have specialists in such forms of activity: professional warriors, agriculturists, etc. Even at the most primitive stage, of course, we must have, as the Marxists (Engels) point out, the sexual division of labour. But apart from that it would seem that division of labour is a late development in social history, that the primitive form of society (of social production, of association in production) is one of “simple co-operation”, i.e., where many members of the tribe direct their energies to the same task (thus accomplishing much more than the sum of results of separate efforts—cf. removal of large stone from a path by concerted effort: where one person couldn't move it at all) and division of labour in the way Socrates envisages it (coming together of already expert tradesmen of various kinds) could certainly not characterise the foundation of society even if we could accept that (foundation) as a particular historical event. And in fact if the Socratic account of the coming together of different specialists as a condition of the foundation of society were correct, it would mean that society had to be treated as artificial, as the product of external adjustment, as a compromise among diverse interests (in the manner of Glaucon's “contract” theory) and not as a community, i.e., as something based on (involving) common activities or shared interests.

In that way, then, we can say that the account given by Socrates of a society based upon the recognition of social necessities is open to the same objections as Glaucon's social contract (or compact) theory—that it is equally artificial or unhistorical and equally external, not recognising (or involving) a real community of interest (“common good”). note

  ― 34 ―
view facsimile

Of the distinction of functions within the State that Socrates does recognise (or rather the one he eventually sets up as fundamental) we can say that it is an arbitrary division in so far as it is simply based on the Pythagorean doctrine of the “three lives” (pursuit of pleasure or gain, pursuit of honour, pursuit of wisdom—illustrated in the three types of persons who attend the Olympic games: to buy and sell, to compete, to look on: (theorein) so that when he lumps together a great variety of types of productive activity (such as he had distinguished, made to serve one another's needs, in his first account of social living—his account of the founding of society) as coming under the function of the industrial class, and distinguishes from this the function of the legislative or ruling class (guardians) and that of the auxiliaries or defenders of the State, when he makes this major threefold division, he is begging the question—he has given no argumentative support (he has only the Pythagorean division to back him up) for the view that legislation, and similarly defence, is a matter for specialists—that an “ideal” or true society is one in which that division is made. There might be argument to this conclusion, but in fact Socrates merely assumes that the productive or industrial class would not be capable of exercising the legislative and defensive functions and that a separate set of functionaries (specialists) is required in each of these two cases.

The assumption of a separate legislative class is connected with the false or unhistorical view of political problems exemplified in the question “How shall we legislate, what sort of State or city shall we establish?” as opposed to the question “What types of social activity (what social interests) do exist and how do they interact with one another?” And the same unhistorical character can be seen in the view Socrates takes of education where in fact the legislative class is identical with the educating class or the class responsible for the system of education (just as in Aristotle's Ethics) and where the question is “How shall we educate?”—this position once more being opposed to a realistic position, expressed in the question “How does learning, how does education take place where we have a particular set of social interests? How does the interrelation of these interests affect the character, the activity of educational institutions?” In fact, we can see that the whole theory of education presented by Socrates in this dialogue is restricted first

  ― 35 ―
view facsimile

by his doctrine of social classes, by his assumption of the importance and separateness of the legislative or guardian class and again of the class of auxiliaries—so that the first scheme of education is a scheme for the training of those who are to be professional defenders of social order (auxiliaries) and the second or higher education is for those (from among the former, the recipients of the first training) who are going to be legislators, going to have general control of the State—and secondly (the value of the discussion is limited by the psychological theory put forward, by the division of mind into faculties corresponding to the social classes: reason, spirit and desire corresponding to guardian, auxiliary and industrial: where, as before (as with industrial class) mental tendencies are lumped together under the general heading of desire though there are quite important distinctions between (among?) them, and where, in the second place, it has not been shown that the tendencies (forms of mental activity) which Socrates puts under desire could not themselves carry out the functions he attributes specially to the faculties of reason and spirit.



In the first scheme of education presented in Republic Socrates is proceeding in the arbitrary way indicated in the previous lecture; he is asking “How shall we educate?”; he is assuming the existence of a legislative class which is also the educating class (educator must have knowledge of good), a body of wise men who have among their functions the application of wisdom to the training of a new generation—particularly of those who are going to be the defenders of the community from attack from without or from within, the auxiliary class, a section of whom will later become guardians. And we have the arbitrary assumption not only of the existence of a class of guardians and of their ability to establish any kind of education they desire but also of the main form that this scheme will take, of the main principles on which it will be organised, or an arbitrary connecting of the characteristics which Socrates represents as important with the problems (principles?) of the establishment of a city, the political organisation of a community. So that when Socrates compares the auxiliaries to watchdogs and says that they must have the two apparently opposed characteristics of watchdogs, gentleness and ferocity (i.e., gentleness to those they have to protect and ferocity towards those they have to protect the former from),

  ― 36 ―
view facsimile

and deduces from that that their education must have the two departments of music and gymnastic, we cannot regard the argument very seriously; we must simply take it, as in other instances, that Socrates knows what conclusions he wants to come to and is introducing considerations which he thinks would support these conclusions, such reasons, however, being thought up after the event. This wouldn't matter so much if we thought of the notion of the founding of the city as a mere framework within which Socrates was going to put forward some of his more special ideas, though it may still be said that he appears to think that by means of such devices he is making real contributions to practical theory (practice and theory? political theory? Latter seems more like it)—and though the pseudo-historical framework makes it easier to pass over the types of problem mentioned previously, especially the question of the irreducible diversity (plurality, antagonism) of interests: i.e., makes it easier to represent Socrates' questions (to have them accepted) as raising the real problems of politics. But, even making the maximum allowance we can, we can still say that Socrates is setting up an artificial scheme determined by his preferences and by his general notion of what is desirable, and to that extent his exposition will be of limited value even as educational theory. (The scheme is an “ideal” one; fatuous notion of “the Greek way of life” as something to be gathered from this scheme. Weak suggested reasons for adopting it. Gymnastic as well as music said to train mind as well as body—to train mental character.

In the scheme of early education the role of habituation is emphasised in the acquisition of certain mental characteristics; emphasis particularly on imitation, on the provision of models by constant association with which pupils were to develop the same character, and the connected removal of influence of another kind, of what would be bad examples or bad things to imitate. The most striking example of this, the sort of thing that is rather loosely called censorship, is on the literary side—the determination that the pupils shall not be brought into contact with the sort of thing that would provide bad models, that works or parts of works which it would be bad for the pupil to imitate shall not be permitted in the classroom. A great deal of nonsense is talked by people who attack this as censorship, who seem to think that it is contrary to education (to the development of a vigorous mind) that pupils should not be brought into contact with every kind of literary influence—nonsense

  ― 37 ―
view facsimile

because it assumes that the pupil from the earliest stage has the mind of a critical thinker or speculator and is able to deal by himself, or out of his own resources, with any sort of material that might be presented to him. And this is connected with the notion, which had its greatest modern development in the eighteenth century in the work of Rousseau but has been influential in education ever since, that education consists in the development or unfolding of the pupil's potentialities, that these can be developed harmoniously or, if they cannot it is for the pupil to make his own choice—assuming, as said, that he has a critical and speculative ability from the outset, whereas the point is that any sort of educational activity, any activity or institution of learning, can proceed only along the lines of certain traditions (with custodians), only in terms of common activities—activities in which many people participate and in coming to participate in which any particular person must meet with much that operates much more as restriction, as a limitation on his propensities. Apart from this there would be no educational tradition; at every moment we should be making a fresh start and we could never arrive at any organised way of living or organised body of knowledge.

But to maintain this—that there is a mass of idle criticism of the Socratic scheme—is not to maintain that there are not fundamental objections to that scheme and that, in particular, Socrates does not hopelessly overwork the conception of imitation, of assimilation to a model. Of course the emphasis on the doctrine (on “imitation”, closer and closer approximation to standards) again brings out the Pythagorean atmosphere of the whole discussion. Later Pythagoreanism especially was a type of thinking according to which the reality of things was expressed in terms of approximation to some absolute model or pattern. But the same sort of dualism or division in reality which then ensues is exhibited on the educational side in the absence of any real connection between the models and the things which are to be shaped on these patterns; it is only if some recognition is given to the pupil's own interests and activities that he could ever come to participate in learnèd and other social activities—only i.e., if his natural interest could be exhibited (and that from the very beginning) as the type of interest and activity that was to develop in the institution; and even if it is still nonsense to treat the pupil as a critical thinker from the outset, it is also nonsense to treat him as a mere mass of material to be shaped in any way that was considered desirable. We can say that in fact people who try to model pupils

  ― 38 ―
view facsimile

by constantly presenting them with the sort of thing they would want them to be like will regularly produce differences (something different) from what they anticipated, will find the pupils deviating from the model (even actively opposing or disliking it) instead of progressively approaching it, just because (the pupils) have interests and tendencies of their own which must be enlisted (must participate) in the process of any acquisition of learning or indeed of any other characteristic.



If we take the Socratic theory of artistic, musical and especially literary training at the early stage, we can say that what is called the Socratic “censorship” is anti-educational. If the notion is to present to the child examples of courageous and other virtuous conduct in the expectation that he will then come to follow the virtuous model and to be virtuous, and in the belief that if he were given examples of vice he would follow these examples, then we are denying that at this stage he can understand the virtues he is supposed to acquire and we are saying that he is not to be presented with these virtues as they actually occur, namely, in conflict with opposing tendencies. For we can say specifically that unless we see virtue struggling with difficulties, involved in conflict, then we are not seeing virtue as it itself is and thus in the Socratic scheme we are not given even the model in its purity; and in fact we might take the Socratic exposition here as subject to Socrates' own criticism of the transmission of opinion, namely that, unless the instructed person has an understanding of the thing to be transmitted (and that means of its conditions of existence, including conflict), what is acquired by the pupil may be entirely different from what the teacher intended to impart. In this particular case the pupil may be developing in a quite unvirtuous way: he may exercise certain propensities on the wrong occasion, under the wrong conditions or in wrong connections, just because he has not been made to understand what the right conditions are, to understand certain types of processes as they actually occur.

There is of course the point continually made against censorship, that what appears to the adult as a bad example given by certain material or (what appear) to be the bad features of that material, may pass completely over the child's head, may not be noticed by him, and apart from being noticed may not influence him because they (the features) do not

  ― 39 ―
view facsimile

really enter into his circle of activity. Beyond that is the point that the “example” in question may be something the child cannot help getting because it is part of the natural disposition of himself and his companions, and that the pretence that it is not, the pretence that it is something that could be completely cast (cut) out (excised) from his life, while on the one hand it might lead him to have contempt for his instructors, would on the other hand, as far as the instruction is (was) effective, render him less able to deal with the tendencies in question—leave him at the mercy of unthinking impulses.

It is not the case, however, that Socrates does not recognise natural distinctions; on the contrary he thinks that different people (children) have aptitudes that fit them for different tasks and so we have different social classes. But it is the case that, granting so much (that amount of) importance to initial (original) endowments, Socrates treats further development, at least in the elementary stage (“just education”), as a mere case of moulding or of impressing character(s) on people. And apart from the question of such a process being good or being educational, being a condition of learning, Socrates does not even show that it is possible. He cannot justify the belief in any sort of mechanics (mechanical process?) whereby from the mere external presentation of certain forms of character, a similar internal character (the character of the pupil) would ensue. Nor again does he show how a pupil who had developed (or who had been developed) in this passive sort of way could go on to take up the critical activity, enter on the course of dialectic or speculative thinking, which he (Socrates) presents in his scheme of higher education. He does of course assume that products of that higher education are available to be the teachers in the early education and to be the legislators in society in general; but he still leaves his critical teachers quite cut off from his uncritical pupils. There is no sort of participation or interchange in the process; and this sort of division may be connected with his general dualism, the division he makes in reality between his absolute unhistorical standards and his historical changing particulars which are supposed to be governed by these standards and to be able to approximate more or less closely to them.

The effect of this division is that Socrates himself is involved in the sort of position he attacks as mere opinion. He has to be

  ― 40 ―
view facsimile

dogmatic, he cannot say how the particular can be said to come under the form, because he has done away with any continuity, any sort of interchange, between the two. One way of expressing this criticism on the educational side is to say that there is no education except that in which the educator is also a learner and in which the educated is also active, is exercising in some measure his spontaneity or initiative. Apart from such considerations the conception of education as a process is impossible (the dualistic view gives no notion of how we could learn and in fact has to replace getting to know by some sort of “intuition” or immediate certainty—with whose objects we could never have any sort of transactions, so that in fact we couldn't get to know them), and this is connected with the general point that any sort of interrelationship can only be such as to involve interchange and continuity—that we can quite well conceive “participation” among different historical things (participation in common processes, being parts or factors in a common movement) but we cannot conceive any sort of participation between something historical and something unhistorical.



In his account of justice in the soul Socrates takes a hierarchical view—i.e., the harmony consists of a certain order, a certain subordination of functions to other functions. The soul has a complete function, a complete way of being (of working?) which is harmonious or just because each of its “parts”, each of the main forces within it, is carrying out its proper work and in relation to other parts is subordinated to the leading part, namely, reason.

It is difficult for Socrates to maintain these distinctions (of “parts” or faculties) and especially difficult for him to maintain the theory of harmony—of the different parts working in accord, each accepting its place in the hierarchy, not trying to take over functions that do not belong to it. It is difficult because the harmony or accord between reason and any non-rational faculty can only be

  ― 41 ―
view facsimile

an external one: you couldn't have a thorough-going agreement unless it was understood in the same way by all the parties to the argument and that cannot be the case if they are not all “rational”, i.e., if they are not all capable of adapting themselves to a situation, recognising its complexity, observing how one situation is distinguished from another and how one is connected with (e.g., leads into) another. So that one line of criticism of the Socratic position is in fact that he makes a false division among “faculties” (mental tendencies), types of psychic operation, in treating reason as calculating but not passionate, being concerned with the universal, and desire as passionate and not calculating, being concerned with the particular—with spirit occupying a middle position, partaking of both these distinctive characters (i.e., passion and calculation; the characters of desire and reason). The main logical point is that there is nothing which is universal (general) without being particular and nothing which is particular without being general (having character), or that there is nothing a faculty can attend to or be concerned with short of a complex state of affairs in which both particular and generality will (can) be found. The “spirit” of this theory plays the part of a “third man”, just as the ideal State and the ideal soul play the part of links between the historical and the unhistorical (or “being” and becoming). But once we make this division we could never bring the two together—on the other hand, once we admit the intermediate form, then we don't need the extremes: we could say that any mental tendency would have the character Socrates attributes to spirit. The position is that either we have a number of “motives” all on the same level logically, all capable of calculation or of recognising the distinction and connection of things (features) in any situation and all passionate in the sense of having special object(s) of pursuit, although some of such motives may be (will be) more powerful than others in a given mental economy; we can have (recognise) “dominant” and “subordinate” motives without thinking, as Socrates does, that they differ in kind or that there is any natural subordination or hierarchy among them—either, then, we do away with Socrates' logical division or distinction of levels or else we have a number of faculties which can't possibly agree with one another, which will be bound to conflict or at least to have entirely different ways of operating (though even here it should be noticed that, in order to conflict, two motives would have to have the same kind of object or “objective”,

  ― 42 ―
view facsimile

namely, some state of affairs, since there could not possibly be conflict between a pure universal and a pure particular. note

Allowing for the sake of argument that there could be a just soul, that there could be psychical harmony or hierarchy in the way Socrates conceives, we are immediately placed in difficulties about the just or harmonious State or community—difficulties, i.e., whether we suppose that the souls of the members of that community are all just in the Socratic sense or that they are not all just in that sense. (1) First if we suppose that every member of the community has a thoroughly organised soul in which reason dominates, then there will be no basis for the Socratic division of the community into classes, no basis for the hierarchical State. On the contrary, each soul would be able to carry out any function whether legislative, executive or economically productive. But on other hand (2) if the souls are not all just (enabling us to have a social division in accordance with differences in this respect), then there cannot possibly be harmony—there will rather be what Jowett refers to as “the holding down of the many by the few”. Whatever we might think made it possible, this “holding down” could not be called harmony; the community would not exhibit the virtue of temperance as Socrates understands it, namely, agreement among all the sections to accept a particular division of functions and a general direction of social effort—the mere producers would be unable to grasp the justification of the comparative elevation of the other classes and (there would be) a constant struggle and not an ideal State.

While, on the side of mind and especially as regards types of object (faculties concerned with the universal and the particular respectively), we have simply to reject the Socratic position, we can admit the possibility of an actual division of functions in the case of a community, i.e., we can say that it is possible that the same person should be a producer, a legislator and an administrator, but that possibility will provide no ground for arguing that everyone in the State will in fact have all these functions or again (for arguing) that it is better that this should be so. In other words

  ― 43 ―
view facsimile

the rejection of the Socratic functional view does not in itself establish an egalitarian position—though in any case we should have to admit that anything that has been called an egalitarian or democratic (?) has shown considerable inequality, with (and has shown) very considerable differences of function. The question can be attached only in a realistic way—the sort of way Socrates is avoiding in his criticism of Thrasymachus—i.e., if we accept a pluralistic view, if we admit that in any society there are many interests which cannot be brought to a single basis, cannot be made parts or functions of a single “interest of the whole”, then what we mean by social or political organisation is the sort of thing portrayed crudely by Glaucon, namely, a particular balance of such (diverse) interests, an agreement among them as to the range of their activities (as to their “provinces”), and while each interest may seek to extend its province, to strike a new balance more favourable to it—while, in fact, this search for more favourable conditions, for an extension of “rights”, by particular interests is a constant feature of social life—still the existence of organised society at all means that there is at least a provisional agreement as to these provinces, a provisional distribution of power among the various interests, a common recognition for the time being of their various “rights”, and if we are to have such a system of rights (of recognised powers or “freedoms to act”; such system of enfranchisement) then there must be certain machinery through which such recognition is expressed and through which any attack on the balance (any breaking of established boundaries) could be corrected: and this gives us the State in the narrower or special sense—i.e., (1) wide sense: the actual balance of interests at a given time (“the state of society”); (2) narrow sense: the machinery for sustaining (maintaining?) such a balance; politics in the specialised sense; politicians as people who have the special work of operating (controlling: laying down the rules for the operation of) such machinery.

From that pluralist point of view we can see how there can be various distributions and (up to a point) redistributions of functions or ranges of interest(s), and we might in those terms be able (as previously suggested)

  ― 44 ―
view facsimile

to connect the political with the ethical question, to distinguish types of polity which are more or less favourable to good activities. Again we can distinguish conditions of greater and less specialisation—cases where there is a narrower and more professional legislative or executive class from cases where there is less specialised functionalism or professionalism—though there will never be a case where we can say “one man, one function”: that is logically impossible. In these ways we can develop a political theory and observe important distinctions; but we could never do so in terms of the Socratic division, we could never have a pure class of legislators devoted to “reason” (or to the universal) prescribing for the industrial class and using the class of auxiliaries to put their prescriptions into effect. The class of auxiliaries (like “spirit” on the psychological side) simply amount(s) to a separation from a supposed ruling class of its own executive power, a separation which in fact leaves it powerless, but a separation which Socrates is forced to make because otherwise he could not distinguish higher and lower at all; everything would have to be on his intermediate level.

(Might have important points to make in other ways: but, from what has been said, we can expect to find fundamental defects in the second scheme of education—“higher education”—in Republic, because it is an education for a class supposedly devoted to reason, an education for the development of minds dominated by reason—in a way which, it is suggested above, is impossible; because, inter alia, of the logical confusion(s) it involves.


(Failure of parallel between society and soul; and of functional principle. In any society one person has many “functions”. Also any faculty concerned with what is both general and specific. Shortcomings of higher education as attempt to develop “reason”—knowledge of the purely universal.)

Socrates approaches the question of higher education through the laying down of the requirement for an ideal society that the rulers should be philosophers. The guardian class in the perfect city should consist of men whose minds are directed towards the universal. Socrates contrasts these philosophers with “lovers of sights and sounds”, enthusiasts for certain perceptual objects as opposed to devotees of the pure universal. If we deny that distinction, if we maintain that “particulars” can be considered only as examples of certain sorts of things and that universals are to be found only in particular case(s) (that there

  ― 45 ―
view facsimile

are only sorts of things), then we should not accept the distinction between types of mind as Socrates makes it, though we might still think there are differences between the critical and the uncritical mind—which will come down to the distinction between those who study differences (types) of form that exist among facts and those who are dominated by material considerations and ignore distinctions of form. (Cf. de Tocqueville—view that democratic societies are marked by indifference to questions of form. This is illustrated in recent controversies regarding the conception of law (1) as amounting simply to governmental policy, (2) as independent of such policy.)

Following up this distinction, in explaining the difference between “true” and “counterfeit” philosophy (a distinction reminiscent of that in Gorgias between counterfeit and genuine arts, and of the general theory in that dialogue of the opposition between order and disorder—orderliness and disorderliness). Socrates distinguishes certain cognitive faculties—a faculty concerned with the certain or, in his terminology, with absolute forms (a type of cognition which cannot possibly be mistaken, or is infallible) from a fallible cognition (belief or opinion), and both of these in turn from ignorance: so that we have three possible mental positions in relation to things—knowledge, belief and ignorance. We can criticise this division on the cognitional side (the side of what cognises) by reference to the question—what faculty would be aware of the distinction between what is absolutely certain and what is uncertain or, equally, of the connection between these things (in the terminology of the dialogues, between universals (forms) and particulars or between the “realm of being” and the “realm of becoming”). But the fundamental criticism is on the objective side, namely, what would be the objective status of the distinction (or the connection) between a “higher” or absolute reality and a lower and derivative (or subordinate) reality, because this difference (or this relation) would not seem to be of either of the contrasted types (kinds) of reality, so that either it would not hold between the contrasted sets of entities at all or it would break down the distinction between them. In fact the discussion here is quite valuable in so far as it shows that the distinction between types of cognitive faculty arises from, or has as its basis, the distinction between different kinds of reality; but the same type of criticism applies in either case (either on the side of being or on the side of knowing), that we cannot get any sort of connection between the two “kinds” (we cannot have a theory of a single mind which has both faculties or of a theory of reality embracing, a reality which embraces, both kinds of being) without breaking down the divisions.

  ― 46 ―
view facsimile

The weakness of the Socratic view is particularly shown in the account given of the objects which correspond to the different “mental positions”, the objects which each can be said to be concerned with. Thus knowledge is supposed to be concerned with absolute or true being, with “what is”, while ignorance has as its correlative “what is not”. But this is an untenable view, for, in order to be said to be ignorant, we can only be said to be ignorant of what is (of something that is) or of what is the case: in other words, the object is the same in both instances—only, in the one case we have grasped it, in the other we have been unable to grasp it. Now if we take opinion or belief, we find that it is supposed to be concerned with something between being and not being, with something which is and which is not, or which has a sort of half-existence. This is a quite unintelligible conception; the objects of opinion would have to be of a certain character if they existed at all and we should have to admit the possibility of true knowledge of these things just as they are, even if at a given time no particular person had that knowledge. Thus on the side of the objects we could not make the distinction between infallible knowledge and opinion which is fallible; we could only say that some people know these things as they are and other people do not. But, in order to say that, we should have to acknowledge that what was cognised in either case was a complex state of affairs, a proposition or set of propositions; and if we were to suppose some type of non-propositional knowledge we could not bring it into any relation with propositional knowledge, we could not use it as a check on propositional knowledge: i.e., if we assume knowledge of something (X) absolutely by itself, that would not help us to determine whether X was or was not Y or whether W was or was not X. The non-propositional would be absolutely useless in relation to our everyday beliefs. (This implies rejection of the doctrine of participation.)

At the end of Book VI we find Socrates offering a hierarchical account of both reality and knowledge, of the different grades of being and the different grades of knowledge which are concerned with the different grades of being; and this hierarchical scheme breaks down if we (have to?) admit that any knowledge whatever is knowledge of complex situations. The objection to the scheme illustrated in the “divided line” would be that there is nothing below the level of propositions as is suggested in the doctrine of “images” (the lowest type of object)—and

  ― 47 ―
view facsimile

objection can similarly be taken to the doctrine of forms as (signifying) something above the level of propositions (something attended to or contemplated by the higher types of knowledge). We could even say that the conception of dialectic developed in Book VII in connection with the account of higher education—the theory of the “unity of things” and of the necessity of removing any conception causing division in reality (“removing hypotheses”)—is opposed to the very sort of division illustrated in the divided line. But the point is that Plato (or Socrates) thinks that unity can be combined with hierarchy, with a doctrine of lower and higher realities culminating in the conception of the good—the supreme principle of reality or “form of forms”. But here we can say that Socrates is confusing different senses of unity—the sense in which all things together constitute one thing or scheme of things, and the sense in which it can merely be said that the same types of problem arise in connection with any subject-matter, a conception which doesn't require us to postulate (the postulation of) any supreme or governing type of reality—and secondly we can say that Socrates is importing into this supreme principle a notion of goodness which comes from ordinary experience, that he is identifying the notion of goodness with the notion of unity as in the conception of “harmony” which is the dominant conception in the dialogue, or that he is going back and forward between recognition of certain empirical facts and postulation of a ruling principle in reality.



One way of expressing the difficulty in regard to the “supreme principle” is to inquire into its actual status in the account that is given of it at the end of Book VI. Socrates says it “transcends both being and knowledge”, and Taylor is so little aware of the difficulties of that position that he actually says the supreme principle, the good, is something more exalted than being—in other words, has its being

  ― 48 ―
view facsimile

at a higher level than being—which is an illogical position. Now as against this attempt to represent the supreme principle as an actual entity of some sort, we could take the doctrine as a merely methodological one, namely, as the postulate that whenever we have two separate pieces of knowledge there would be some way of integrating them. In other words, the recommendation for inquiry is that we seek for some wider reality of which the two distinct objects are aspects, that we should find a place for both of them within some wider scheme and thus do away with the mere distinction between them, treat them as objects of a single act of knowledge and not just of separate acts of knowledge. Now as far as that doctrine of the unity of things or unity of knowledge is concerned, we can say that there must be some connection between any two things and that discoveries are to be made by considering their interconnection; but that would be a consequence of our theory of reality and not of any mere postulate or recommendation for inquiry. But then the point would be that even if we make such further discoveries we are not in any way “removing” or “destroying” the distinction with which we began, that whatever connection we discover between A and B, they remain just as distinct as ever they were, and this applies no matter what in detail we might discover about A and B by bringing the two together.

Now the way in which theorists like Taylor who profess to agree with Socrates on this question meet this sort of difficulty is by taking a teleological view (which of course is closely connected with the functional view I have taken to dominate Republic—i.e., a thing's “reality” is its “good” or “end”: what it is “for”): i.e., we consider not just A and B but the purposes of A and B and then it is assumed that we could know these two purposes as parts of one purpose (cf. assumption that there must be a harmony between the “harmonious” (hierarchically organised) State and the “harmonious” soul—an assumption which, as seen above, doesn't work out, lands Socrates in contradictions, and so could progress towards a doctrine, an understanding, of “the unity of things” in a purposive sense. Taylor quotes with approval in this connection Burnet's phrase “teleological algebra” to describe the character of science, of exact knowledge, on this sort of view. What this means is that, recognising two different things A and B, we have not merely to investigate the purpose of A and the purpose of B but we have to investigate the purpose of the difference between A and B—or, as it might be better put, the purpose of the difference between the purpose (“reality” end) of A and the purpose of B

  ― 49 ―
view facsimile

—so that we get purposes of higher and higher degrees or of higher and higher “powers”: and that could justify the use of the term “algebra” in this connection. But the weakness of that view is that going on to those higher powers we don't get any nearer the conception of the unity of things, we get formulae which are more and more complicated, exhibit more and more diversity (and are less and less explanatory of, give a less and less clear account of, the “purpose” of the things we started with), and thus the conception of purpose fails to solve the difficulties, fails to carry us beyond diversity to unity.

Now taking dialectic as discussed in the theory of higher education in Book VII to mean the removal of such distinctions as have to be removed in order to get a coherent view of things (consistency and continuity of things), we can give it a sense in which it is not open to these objections, even though the objectionable sense is still present in the discussion in the dialogue, i.e., we can say that the distinctions that dialectic would remove would not be distinctions between qualities, the concrete distinctions we make among things, but would be distinctions between fields of inquiry, distinctions between the “kinds of issue” that can be raised in different fields; in particular, between different kinds of truth or different ways of being the case, as when people contrast mathematical truth with physical truth or both with moral truth and so forth (contrast made between “rational” and “empirical” science or between “facts” and “values”; etc). In so far as dialectic demands rejection of distinctions of that kind we can have a coherent view whereas if we have different kinds of truth, then we could have (there would be) no connection between different fields of study and we could never speak, e.g., of the “application of maths to physics” in the way we do. (Cf. undialectical procedure in science, and particularly physics, at the present time; the attempt to deny, or refer to another “region”, qualitative distinctions and to have a “purely quantitative” science: this involving disconnection of fields or of studies.) (cf. also Taylor accepting dialectic, yet also accepting the division (in Book VI) among kinds of knowledge.)

In conclusion, we can certainly say that for higher education there must be a criticism of principles, there must be a doctrine of types of problem and types of solution and it is necessary, for such a doctrine, to remove the divisions

  ― 50 ―
view facsimile

among things that are created by human prejudice, by the desire to protect certain views or certain conceptions, to keep them above criticism; and in that sense (as opposing such protection) higher education will be dialectical, it (the theory of it) will be a doctrine of a critical view of things as the only way of getting a consistent view of things. But what sort of relation is higher education of such a sort going to have to the earlier education Socrates presented: one which, we may say, is defined by the absence of criticism, one which is characterised by the mere acceptance of certain views and attitudes, i.e., by the pupil's coming to believe what he has merely been accustomed to, what he has had continually impressed on his mind; any alternative view being kept from his attention. I suggested earlier that this sort of education can never be effective, that there could never be any assurance that the character of the pupil would be (would become) that of the model which he had had constantly put before him. But even if the education were ineffective (in the sense of not achieving its stated purpose) it would certainly weaken any critical power the pupil had, it would hamper him considerably in taking up critical study at a later stage, even if it did not prevent him altogether from doing so: and that brings out the point again that, admitting that the pupil, the young child, cannot be an advanced critic, it is at any rate by his active participation in things, by his “involvement” in the sort of processes he is studying, that he learns (anything at all); and it is such an active participation in things at an early stage that would make him capable of entering on a higher education, of becoming thoroughly critical, aware of principles and methods of study, at a later stage.

End of part of course specially on Republic—proceed to discussion of Aristotle's Ethics.

Page of notes inserted after page 35.

  ― 35a ―
view facsimile

Republic I—resembling Euthyphro (in form), Gorgias (in content):

or is it (What about Polemarchus and Polus?): argument with Polemarchus resembles Euthyphro; argument with Thrasymachus resembles Gorgias?

Connection between ethics and logic—finding out what is systematic and harmonious and what is not.

no previous