FOLLOWING ON from Socrates last week, let’s have a brief look at one of his students, Plato.
Plato was born of an Athenian aristocratic family and his philosophy was a continuation of the theories of Socrates. In fact, Socrates was used by Plato as the main participant in his early dialogues and it is not always certain whether it is Plato’s or Socrates’ thoughts that are quoted (as they everything Socrates allegedly said was written down by Plato – but you knew that from last week). They were more likely developments of Socrates’ views.
Plato (427-347 BC)
Plato’s best known work is his Republic which is based on his idea of justice. The Greek word for justice is dikaiosune and it involves the idea to act rightly in one’s own dealings with others – social virtue of ‘par excellence’ – or, perhaps, ‘morality’. Plato considered a just man will not harm anyone, in any sense. Justice was a virtue that regulated our relationship with others and we will be judged on that relationship.
“We believe in Justice”
In The Republic, Plato attempted to find a solution to Socrates’ theory that nobody willingly does wrong. He divided the mind or soul into two parts which could be in conflict with each other, to create a balance. In other words, one part of the mind knew good but it may not be able to control the other part of the mind. He clarified this by saying that, in effect, self-controlled people are those whose sense of reason was in control of their desires. However, not all people had this self-control: they may know what was good, by their reason, but their baser desires seek something else under the misapprehension that it was good. That baser desire defeated the reason and a bad action or vice was the result rather than virtue.
Plato developed the ideal within the soul and then divided it into three parts:
(i) Reason – which is wisdom, the rational part.
(ii) Spirit – which is courage, the emotional part.
(iii) Temperance – which is harmony and justice.
One must come to terms with all three factors within oneself to discover true virtue. He regarded it as a form of physical health without which life was meaningless as it was without psychological order. These three factors were the underlying properties essential for the possession of virtues in Plato’s mind. They were natural to a healthy existence and he suggested that goodness was the health and harmony of the personality – being that justice in society was a harmonious relationship between the classes.
Still with me?
Here he compared the three factors with the Polis or city state – showing how one could live in harmony with oneself in a similar manner as within the city state:
- the guardian class of the state was wisdom
- the military class or auxiliaries were the trained soldiers and therefore courageous and with spirit
- the economic working class helped balance the temperance.
The idea of splitting the soul into three parts was to prevent a single soul running away with the mere satisfaction of immediate desires, as opposed to the idea of complete happiness which could be achieved by considering all three factors. This would allow true harmony in life and this harmony was relative to one’s knowledge of oneself and one’s world. Get it?
Plato was responsible for the establishment of his ‘Academy’ (Academeia), which concentrated on the teaching of mathematics (from the work of Pythagoras) and philosophy. Science was rejected and logic took its place. His historical interest was very limited, having little time for the likes of Miltiades, Themistocles or Pericles (Athenian statesmen). He was more concerned with law and order (see his Republic and Laws) than in the actual politics of Athens. Democracy was not something he accepted (nor did his pupil, Aristotle) as he considered it irresponsible, believing that the state should not be ruled by amateurs, but by a smaller and more intellectual group, who would be groomed from birth, and whose laws would be Forms or Ideas created through their contemplation of life or intuition – an intellectual oligarchy (hence his idea of a three-part city state or Polis mentioned above).
Plato’s ‘Academy’ rejected science for maths and logic
Okay, that’s enough classical culture for the moment