Earlier on in Plato’s “Republic”, Socrates and Adeimantus set out to determine the kind of education that the guardians of Kallipolis should receive. While doing this, Socrates gives his opinion on what he thinks should and should not be conveyed in the work of artists. In order to complete his consideration of art, Socrates decides that it is necessary to investigate the style in which artists portray their work, reasoning that, in doing such, he and Adeimantus “…will have completely investigated both what [artists] should say and how they should say it” (Plato 73). Socrates then brings up the “Iliad” as an example. At the beginning of the “Iliad”, Socrates points out that the author “…himself is speaking and is not trying to make us think that the speaker is anyone but himself. After that, however, he speaks as if he himself were Chryses, and tries as hard as he can to make us think that the speaker is not Homer, but the priest himself…”(Plato 74). According to Socrates, Homer, by narrating the “Iliad” through the eyes of his characters, is trying to “imitate” (Plato 74) the people in his story. In stating this, Socrates goes on to hold that artists should not try and imitate anyone other than themselves, on the grounds that doing so would result in the artist not being “…able to practice any pursuit worth taking about…” (Plato 76). After all, doesn’t Socrates argue that everyone is suited for only one kind of job alone? Hence, while reading this, I became very confused. Throughout the “Republic”, Plato uses Socrates as a sort of mouthpiece to express his thoughts and opinions and never actually appears in the dialogue itself. Furthermore, all the characters, with the exception of Thrasymachus, seem to utilize Socrates as a way of expressing their views, for they simply nod and agree after pretty much everything Socrates says. If this is true, then, by his own definition, isn’t Plato (and Socrates) acting as an “imitator” himself?
Later, in Book 5, Plato addresses the way in which his ideal city will conduct war. As Kallipolis is a Greek city, Socrates suggests that, when it is at war with another Greek city, the warriors of Kallipolis should show them mercy and not take any Greek prisoners nor burn down their houses nor ravage their land. On the other hand, Kallipolis, as part of the Greek race, is “strange and foreign” in relation to the non-Greek “barbarians” (Plato 162). As a result, Socrates proposes that: “When Greeks fight with barbarians, then, or barbarians with Greeks, we will say that it is warfare, that they are natural enemies, and that such hostilities should be called war. But when Greeks engage in such things with Greeks, we will say that they are natural friends, that Greece is sick and divided into factions in such a situation…” (Plato 163). Being a city of supposed near justice, Kallipolis represents what Plato sees as a form of justice itself. However, back in Book 1, during the examination of Polemarchus, didn’t Socrates establish that “…neither justice nor the just consists in benefiting friends and harming enemies…” (Plato 12)? Thus, I am a bit perplexed about this whole situation and would appreciate it if someone could shed some light on this whole thing. For, as it appears to me, Plato is subtly undermining his own argument. And if the philosopher himself cannot uphold his own philosophy, then how can he expect others to do as he proposes?