Socrates’ Inconsistency

Plato’s Republic is considered a keystone work in the development of western philosophy. Interestingly enough, the famous dialogue is not concise and cohesive — on the other hand, it often contradicts the very arguments that it provides. In the attempt to understand justice, Socrates proposes a method to investigate. He states that in the city there must “be more justice” than in an individual, as it is “the larger […] and will be easier to discern” (Plato 368e). This appears to be true enough, as it makes logical sense that one may find it easier to analyze the more tangible interactions within a population as opposed to the then-new and abstract concept of justice and the workings of the human soul.

However, as the men begin to theorize how a just society would be constructed, they discovered that their initially simple and small idea of an ideal city would not have been sufficient. They had “to enlarge [their] city again [as it was] no longer adequate” for living (373b). This means that in their attempt to discover justice within in a city, they realized that the city was much more complex than they had originally thought; this in turn shows it may actually be no easier to discover justice within a city as opposed to a single individual. Despite this contradiction being apparent, the issue is not revisited — they simply move on, as if nothing had happened. It seems that each time Socrates brings up a seemingly straightforward analogy, powerful rebuttals could be given should the individual responding give even just several seconds of critical thought. This definitely bugged me as I read further into the work; countless times Socrates shows inconsistency within his own arguments — and the others almost never probe him about it. 

Interestingly enough, as my annoyance faded, I realized that there may be a lesson to the many inconsistencies present within the work. Republic is a dialogue filled with countless analogies and visual images upon which a majority of the arguments are built. The way in which the metaphors and concepts are often not as linear and ‘true’ upon careful thought as Plato would like readers to believe teaches a valuable lesson about the Socratic method: the execution will never be as linear as presented in argument. While the Kallipolis may sound wonderful in theory, the argument is overly simplified and an attempt to carry out such a plan could easily be disastrous.  As Karl Popper would argue,Plato’s Republic is a testament to this fact.

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