Monthly Archives: September 2016

The impossibility of a ‘Philosopher King’

In Plato Republic, he explains his famous cave analogy; which describes a process of education on particular individuals that will ultimately lead to them becoming ‘philosopher kings’ if they succeed. These philosopher kings are stated to have seen the sun at the end of the cave metaphor (they know and understand the real truth), and have the obligation to go back to the cave and lead the rest of the people in the best way possible. Thus, the cave analogy provides a metaphor in which it is possible to create philosopher kings who would best lead the city they have hypothesised (Kallipolis), because he would know the form of the good (the real truth). Therefore, the king would be deemed as omniscient and capable of leading the city they have formed in the best possible way.

This argument that Plato brings forward in his analogy is critically flawed in the sense that it is impossible to teach something to someone that you yourself don’t know. Socrates explains several times himself that they will never be able to reach the real truth through discussion: “You would no longer see an image of what we are describing, but the truth itself as it seems to me, at least” (Plato, 228). Through this statement it is shown that Socrates himself doesn’t know the full truth himself; hence, his assumption that he can teach people to know the real truth through a certain method of teaching that takes years and years of education is utterly ridiculous, and the sacrifices these people will have to make in order to attempt to become a philosopher king is much to great on its own.

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Kallipolis: Individual vs. Collective

Kallipolis, as described in Plato’s Republic appears to not allow for any societal growth. To understand this we must separate the longevity of The Republic as a whole from the longevity of Plato’s Kallipolis.  Though not intended to be an exact blueprint of an ideal city, Kallipolis is used as an example of a just society.

This society seeks to fulfill the individual’s basic needs but does not take into account the individual’s thoughts, desires, or humanly vices. Later, Aristotle would say that to develop character, you need to have certain traits. For example, to be human, there are certain traits, virtues, and vices. Plato leaves no room for uniqueness, where there is a combination of your roles as an authentic individual. In Kallipolis, there isn’t really any room for movement, everyone has a vocation. This is seen in the Myth of Metals, where everyone is divided up into gold, silver and bronze or guardians, warriors and producers.

In this division of Plato reduces us to a single role, and does not accept any potentiality. He argues that a person would do better work if he only practiced one craft (370b5, pg. 48). Arguably, humans do have strengths and weaknesses, but the citizens of the theoretical Kallipolis would not be given the chance to explore these things. The greater good mentality totally loses the individual. Plato’s utilitarian ideals focus too much on the aggregate good.

Because of this, he has not truly come up with an ideal society because it could not withstand the test of time. An ideal society would be dynamic and able to adapt to new technology, scientific discoveries, social movements. It would support both the individual and the community on equal levels.

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Republic and Totalitarianism

During the latest seminar one of the questions posed to the class was whether Plato’s Republic laid the groundwork for totalitarianism. A nice little debate ensued, but was unfortunately cut short by the end of class. During class I argued that yes, Republic was partially to blame for totalitarianism. Now that isn’t saying that it was the sole cause. Hundreds of social, economic, political, and philosophical factors throughout the course of history contributed to the creation of totalitarian states, but surely the fact that one of the most highly regarded works of philosophy is basically a love letter to totalitarianism must have had some impact.

As soon as Plato begins describing his ideal city, the Kallipolis, he starts to limit the freedoms of it’s inhabitants. He creates a hierarchy of laborers, soldiers, and philosophers, and establishes that each class must only do that which it is best suited for. Obviously Plato selects philosophers as the rulers, being himself a philosopher.

The residents of Kallipolis are limited not only in what they can do, but in the very stories and melodies that they are allowed to hear. This is because Plato decides that the poetic stories of the gods and heroes, while entertaining and beautiful, ultimately corrupt their listeners and strip them of the platonic virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation and justice. By depicting the gods as liars or the heroes as cowardly Plato fears that citizens will mimic that bad behavior. This very paternalistic approach absolutely reeks of totalitarianism.

While discussing poetic narration and mimicry Plato gives an example of an extremely wise, gifted man, who is able to perfectly imitate many things. While acknowledging that his performance would be beautiful and amzing, he says the man would be turned away from the city in favor of a less interesting poet who would conform better to his totalitarian story guidelines.

When discussing a man who prolonged his life through medicine and healthy living, Plato decides that he should have given in to his illness and died. He justifies this by saying that if you are preoccupied with staying alive, you won’t contribute to society and therefore would be better off dying.

Perhaps most importantly, Plato makes the case that Kallipolis isn’t meant to bring great happiness to any individual resident, but that by functioning perfectly it would allow each person to be “as happy as their nature allows”. This focus on the system over the individual is a core part of totalitarianism and Plato absolutely adores it.


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Plato on freedom and beauty

Plato explores the concepts of freedom and beauty from very unconventional angles in Republic; unusual in the context of both contemporary and modern understandings of the two terms. Freedom to a contemporary audience of Athenians could be defined as the ability to think and do as one pleases. Plato explores and ridicules this definition through Socrates’ description of the ‘free’ man; one who goes about “putting all his pleasures” and appetites, whether necessary or indulgent, “on an equal footing”, “dishonouring none but satisfying all equally” (358, 561b). This life, according to Plato, carries “neither order nor necessity”. In the realm of politics, he vehemently expresses the belief that “democracy’s insatiable desire for what it defines as the good”, namely freedom, is “also what destroys it”. Plato’s own hypothesis on freedom is strongly juxtaposed to that which the people “call total freedom”. For him, the concept only gains meaning when set into the context an entity. Socrates establishes through his dialectic that “we do not allow” man “to be free until we establish a constitution in” him.

This relationship between the adherence of rules and principles, and freedom [which could be seen as contrary to the modern understanding of freedom] is one that also reflects in Plato’s opinion on the role of the individual within society. Plato’s conception of freedom is very much functional – according to him, a man is truly free when he is fulfilling his role to the state to the best of his abilities. The utilitarian perspective that Plato maintains on freedom also extends to his attitude towards the concept of beauty. It is best expressed when he says that “if the fine habits in someone’s soul and those in his physical form agree and are in concord with one another”, “wouldn’t that be the most beautiful sight?”. Beauty in the state is, similarly, when all classes work together harmoniously – from the philosopher kings through to the auxiliaries and craftsmen.

One particular area in which Plato’s opinion on freedom diverges from our modern ideas of it is in his plans for the education of the demos in his kallipolis. The ideas that he explains predominantly in book 3 concerning the ways in which the guardians of the state should be brought up would seem radical in any modern concept – the mass censorship and lying that he proposes go against the ideas of freedom as we know them. But to Plato, the resulting harmony within the classes and the ability that each individual gains to best fulfil their role in society eclipses the need for individuality.

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Plato’s Critique on Western 21st Century Politics

While looking at 21st century politics in the eyes of Plato, I am absolutely mortified. I finally understand now why our system is so corrupt. It begins with democracy, which is ineffective on various levels. First of all, everyone is eligible to make decisions; this is problematic because anyone who is not a philosopher, does not know what is best for a city. Normal people do not have the intellectual capacity to know and think like philosophers do.

The ship analogy explains a scenario in which passengers on a ship are fighting over who the captain should be. These people have no experience with the craft ship of boats yet believe they should be captain regardless. “They do not understand that a true captain must pay attention to the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds, and all that pertains to his craft if he is really going to be expert at ruling a ship” (182, 489a). While the passengers are running around convincing others that they should be captain, there is a silent person studying how to actually be one. It’s the same as people today seeking a political position using all their time campaigning, while they should be furthering their knowledge. “But by far the greatest slander is brought on philosophy by those who claim to practice it– the ones about whom the prosecutor of philosophy declares, as you put it, that the majority of those who take it up are completely bad, while the best ones are useless” (182, 489d). In 21st century terms, Donald Trump who claims to understand the truth about politics is actually, ‘completely bad’. With democracy, the wrong person will almost always be in charge.

In Plato’s perfect city, power holders are allowed no wealth. “We will tell them that they have gold and silver of a divine sort in their souls as a permanent gift from the gods, and have no need of human gold in addition” (102, 416 e). Rulers who are motivated by wealth or are great holders of wealth are not fit for the job. People with genuine souls already have all the wealth they need within themselves. By this concept, basically every power holder in western culture is not right for their job. Every power position in western culture is based on wealth: gaining it and holding enough of it. Donald Trump is known for holding a share of the top one percent of wealth in America, so it is obvious where his intentions with lay. Plato would rather his city fight a war with brains and bronze than ignorance and money. Plato’s city would kick America’s butt.

Plato’s most basic foundation for a solid political system is justice, beginning with its ruler. A just person acts justly purely for the sake of goodness, not for their reputation. “We must strip him of everything except justice, and make his situation the opposite of the unjust person’s. Though he does no injustice, he must have the greatest reputation for it, so that he may be tested with regard to justice by seeing whether or not he can withstand a bad reputation and its consequences” (40, 361 d). Donald Trump has failed the justice test before he has even taken it. His bad reputation is talked about around the globe, and he withstands the consequences by  being racist, sexist, and worst of all, ignorant.

I hope Plato will come save us all soon.


Works Cited: Plato, and C.D.C. Reeve. Plato’s Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004. Print.

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Socrates: Throwing Verbal Rocks at these Mediocrities?

Okay, so here’s the situation: me reading Republic at like 1 in the morning, not understanding a word of what was going on. Something something Socrates challenging Thrasymachus… wait… how did he get from point A to point upside down A? Did he just flip Thrasymachus’ whole argument?? What just happened?! *Cue me re-reading Book 1 about five more times*

I just kept staring at the interaction between Socrates and Thrasymachus, and I remembered a lyric from the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton: “If not then I’ll be Socrates/ Throwing verbal rocks at these mediocrities!” And I was like HEY I finally understand what he meant when he said that! Socrates is a savage with these words! Isn’t it funny how rhymes in the form of rap can improve your understanding and break complex ideas down a bit?  And then I thought some more, and I came up with two lines:

Yo, how many times do I have to tell you
that my take on justice is the better view?

I gasped, dropped my book and ran out of my room. WHAT IF SOCRATES RAP BATTLED THRASYMACHUS?! Like the YouTube channel; Epic Rap Battles (ERB)! (Their stuff is awesome if you haven’t already checked it out, you should. There are also a couple rap battles in Hamilton.) I was motivated, so I spent the next couple of days refining my rap which is coming up. I have my own rhythm for it that I came up with, and you can read it like a kind of weird poem, or you can come up with your own rhythm to make it flow, the choice is up to you. I would have included an audio link to me actually rapping it, but that’s just embarrassing. This is only the beginning of Socrates’ part because I did not have time to come up with Thrasymachus’ response (though I did have plans for it).


Yo, how many times do I have to tell you
that my take on justice is the better view?
Here I am asking ’bout what justice means,
I see your mind turning like the wheels of a machine.
I gave you my attention, I gave you my time,
The first words out your mouth should’ve gave me a sign
Of how pointless this conversation would be,
when I likened your words to a slice of beef.

According to you, it only works one way;
justice helps the stronger, but what I say
is if we break down what you said into tiny little pieces,
we’d soon realize the error in your thesis.
First of all, what you’re saying is such,
justice only helps those who are better than us!
We obey the rules, we obey the laws,
but what is it that happens when a ruler has flaws?
A king that makes rules that don’t help him out,
are we still gonna say that’s what justice is about?
Well, yeah, we still do what we’re told,
So if this is what you’re arguing, I’m not sold.


Then Thrasymachus would come in and accuse Socrates of not even saying his view on justice in the first place and of only breaking down what others are saying, it would be great. Thrasymachus would even have his own unique sound and the beats would switch up, if you could hear it in my mind it would sound awesome. Unfortunately, I don’t have months to work on this. If I did, Glaucon would have his own song with the melody being played using a ukulele.

So, that’s basically what popped into my head and stayed there until I finally wrote it all out! Since I had to create a rap on this, it actually had me read the text more critically and therefore I was able to understand it better, and that translated for the rest of the books as well. Thank God for 1 a.m. inspiration, am I right?



Lin- Manuel Miranda. “Non- Stop.” Hamilton, Atlantic Records, 2015.

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Artistic Oppression in Plato’s Republic

Although Plato’s vision of the perfect state may seem highly functional and productive, he fails almost completely to recognize the arts as a staple of our cultural experience and shuts down freedom of expression. Ironically, Plato states in book three of Republic that musical education is crucial for the cultivation of the soul, and places it before physical education because in his opinion, the cultivation of one’s soul sets a strong precedent for the cultivation of any other aspect in one’s life. However, when Plato begins to discuss the censorship of harmonies according to one’s place in society, it seems as if he defeats the purpose of the soul in music altogether.

How can one adequately channel one’s “soul” through music if it isn’t treated as a form of expression, but more of a device for conditioning members of society to better fulfill their rolls? How can one’s thoughts and feelings be translated if they aren’t allowed to utilize the vocabulary that will help them best do so? One of the many problems with Plato’s interpretation of the arts is that they are much too analytical and free of any concept of abstract thought. On the subject of lamenting harmonies, Plato asks, “Shouldn’t we exclude them, then? After all, they are even useless for helping women be as good as they should be, let alone men.” (P.82) Although the scales could be seen as lamenting, artistic expression isn’t as straightforward as Plato takes it to be– after all, the harmonies they discuss are the basis for the majority of Sweet Home Alabama”, which is hardly considered a lamenting tune.

But the question of why Plato underplays the arts in Republic remains unanswered; does he not understand its abstract nature, or does he view its purpose as a waste of time? It would be strange to view Plato as a completely concrete thinker; much of his work revolves around the idea of a “soul”, which of course is a very abstract idea, especially for his time. One cannot see the soul, yet Plato still argues for its significance and rests many of his ideas on an assumption of its existence. On the other hand, Plato’s views on music seem to be contradictory to the idea that he sees the arts as a waste, as even he requires musical training before one enters the gymnasium. However, one could easily infer from his writing that Plato may be afraid of the arts and their power rather than dismissive of them. “A change to a new kind of musical training is something to beware of as wholly dangerous. For one can never change the ways of training people in music without affecting the greatest political laws.” (P.108) Who is to say that Plato’s republic is repressive of expression for fear that it could be the downfall of the polis he has outlined? This would surely make sense of his categorization of musical harmonies by social occupation, as well as his ideas on censorship of poets’ portrayals and impersonations of the gods and various other figures unless met with his criteria. Not only does Plato seem to want to cultivate only the finest individuals, but wants them to disregard any thoughts of change, not to mention a different way of government, lest they rest within the bloodlines of the elite. It seems as if unless one is born with gold in their blood, Plato’s republic is where ideas go to die.

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Socratic Dialogue for Veganism

Narration of Archie: As I sat at my table, surrounded by friends, I saw Zach with a pork and beef sandwich. My plate was laden, as usual, with a salad, beans, and vegetables. Zach began to attack my habits;

Zach: Well, Archie, I see you again have failed to succumb to the most primary human sustenance.

Archie: I assume you are facetiously referring to some kind of flesh?

Zach: Flesh- you sophist- don’t persuade me with rhetoric, persuade me with logic.

Archie: Logic? Perhaps, Zach, you would regale me with your intellect and divulge exactly what logic leads you to consume flesh, then we shall see where logic comes to play. I am sure your mind is up to that task, but I don’t want to turn you off your meal if you think it not so…

Zach: Archie, nothing could possibly persuade me not to finish this delicious sandwich. As you wish. Meat is justifiable, not only for the extrinsic good of our health, but more importantly because we have a right–a principled justification– to eat meat.

Archie: I’m not sure I understand you- a right? Where does this right originate?

Zach: it originates in power. It originates in our being a more developed, intelligent, and capable species than any of the animals we now consume.

Archie: I see. So power constitutes a right to decide on those weaker than us?

Zach: That is my claim. Also, I will add, that human beings are fundamentally more important than animals because of their intellect and ability to self-actualize. That is, we know we exist, and suffer greatly in death, in a way far more significant way to animals.

Archie: Zach, I’ll respond to your first argument, before moving on to this addendum… may I ask, importantly, what exactly makes murder wrong?

Zach: Well, it is illegal

Archie: And why is it made to be illegal?

Zach: Because it causes suffering to that person, as they are the ones who lose a potentially fulfilling future life. Also, people around the murdered person suffer greatly.

Archie: So you don’t think this applies to animals, correct?

Zach: OF COURSE NOT! Animals can be killed, especially when it’s done without pain, because the other animals certainly don’t feel any sadness, and the animal itself isn’t self-aware enough to know what it is losing in death.

Archie: So, if a being doesn’t suffer in death, it isn’t aware fully of its own existence, and no-body cares about it, then to kill it painlessly is ethical?

Zach: That seems to be my principle, yes.

Archie: Is it ever ok to kill a human being?

Zach: NO!

Archie: Imagine, for a moment, a heavily disabled individual. Describe for me, if you will, a person who suffered brain damage.

Zach: Well, a person who suffered great brain damage might have no rational thought, might not even be conscious, and might even be in a vegetative state

Archie: And now, Zach, would you describe for me a baby, of perfect health, 2 days after it is born?

Zach: Sure- a baby still sees upside down, it isn’t consciously self-aware, and it can’t speak. It has a few instinctual desires and is probably quite fearful of the world around it.

Archie: Now, imagine those two examples- would it be wrong to kill them?

Zach: How could it not be? They are human beings. It is murder.

Archie: Surely though, I would be justified in killing them if I did it with a painless injection, or walked up behind them and shot them in the head without any fore-warning. Have they suffered in this death?

Zach: No, it still seems wholly immoral, I can’t see where you are taking this argument, but… well no, they haven’t suffered.

Archie: And what if we imagine that this babies mother has just died while giving birth, and the father is not to be found. Furthermore, the disabled person has no family or relatives, and is living in a government disabled home, with no visitors. Does anyone suffer if I kill them?

Zach: No, if no-one has an emotional connection to them, then sure- no-one suffers when they die. Except that you take away the potential for the baby to enjoy life!

Archie: Very well noticed Zach, that potential is removed. Would you not agree that in killing a healthy animal, they too have a life removed which could have been, for that animal, rather fulfilling?

Zach: Yes, I do agree.

Archie: So here we are, with two examples of humans that really, by your principle, can be killed! Don’t you agree that neither the child nor the disabled person understood what they lost, felt pain, and no-one cared for them and thus didn’t suffer either?

Zach: well it seems I must agree. But I still think animals are fundamentally weaker than us, and we have a right to dominate them!

Archie: An argument like this is certainly interesting. I will have to probe it to discover any fault…

Zach: Probe away.

Archie: Well, Zach, you agree that you are stronger than me?

Zach: Undeniably so.

Archie: And you could defeat me in a fight, and probably in intellectual debate as well.

Zach: Undoubtedyl!

Archie: I agree. So, kill me.

Zach: Sorry? Archie did I hear you correctly?

Archie: Yes, you have, by your logic, the justifiable right to kill me, because you are more powerful than me, correct?

Zach: I can’t kill you Archie, power of not- we are equals.

Archie: Why are we equals?

Zach: Because we both suffer, and are at least similar enough in intellect.

Archie: What is relevant intellect and suffering then? Is it the ability to fear death that makes us equals, or something more fundamental?

Zach: it is nothing more fundamental, we are equal because we both suffer in similar ways.

Archie: Do you know animals mourn their dead? And that they recognize, (pigs, at least), 30 individuals around them?

Zach: No…

Archie: And did you know that in the line up to be slaughtered, cows start mounting one another in a desperate attempt to get a moment of pleasure before their inescapable doom?

Zach: No, I suppose not

Archie: So, would you not agree that animals suffer too!

Zach: Well yes, I suppose so.

Archie: Surely we agree now, that murder is wrong when the thing which died suffered, or its family suffered, or we remove the potential to take away life.

Zach: yes, and I suppose animals suffer the harms of murder in a way relatively similar to humans… perhaps veganism is legitimate! Thankyou!







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A School of Predetermination

The idea that children are told what they are going to do for the rest of their lives may seem oppressive and cruel to some and to others the best way to educate. In the Republic by Plato the idea that each child is predestined to fulfill a role in a ‘perfect’ society is not an uncommon subject. Socrates and his cohorts discuss how each person has either gold, silver, or bronze in their bodies which will help to determine what their role in society will be and how they should be educated. The concept of a predetermined future and education based on how you were as a child is a concept people may cringe at believing there is no freedom in it. However, there are countries in the modern world that do use a method similar to the early educational description Socrates and his contemporaries put forth. Countries like Germany have an educational system in place that is totally run by the state and after the age of 10 children are split into different schools based on their skills. The most popular and traditional streams of German education are Gymnasium, Hauptschule, and Realschule. Children who show great promise and success will move on to Gymnasium to complete their Abitur which qualifies them for a higher education; these children would possess gold in the Republics perfect society. Realschule tends to turn our children who pursue steady employment and would, therefore, contain silver in their bodies. Lastly, the children who show skill in a certain area will move on to Hauptschule to help nurture that skill, but after graduation stigma towards the lowest ranked secondary school will make it harder for children to find jobs; these children would contain bronze. The German school system may seem harsh from an outsiders point of view but because of the separation, there is a greater overall success compared to schools from other nations. Although the school system Socrates and his contemporaries described sounds oppressive and cruel there is solid proof that their form of education leads to a better country and society.

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The Principle of Specialization for a “just” city


In the so-called “just city” that Socrates explains in the book The Republic By Plato, it is clear that one of the main ideas he expresses throughout the book is the principle of specialization. The principle of specialization is set up to create a “desirable” city suited for everyone. It is a place where personal freedom and creativity is not valued because these desires to Socrates mean creating unjust individuals eventually leading to an unjust society.


The people living in this city are forced to perform a role that they are naturally suited whether they enjoy it or not. There is not space for disagreement as everyone has a set role and duty they are expected to fulfill. Similar to society today, there seems to be three main classes; the producers, auxiliaries, and guardians. Unlike society we are living in today, the classes are based upon whether you are fit to rule, carry out the jobs of the rulers, or just a normal every day person with a job. Sadly, if you are a producer in this city there is no chance in becoming an auxiliary or guardian/ruler. Even if you are a naturally gifted doctor with hidden passions to become a businessman, there are no exceptions here as it the best way in Socrates’ mind to ensure people do their jobs to keep the system productive. By separating the classes, creating a division of labor towards the “good life,” Socrates believes all of this will allow the city to become simple yet “just.”


Although Socrates creates a just city, the meaning of justice or being just is quite subjective and uncertain between himself as well as his peers. Justice to Cephalus is “living up to your legal obligations and being honest” where as Polemarchus and Thrasymachus have other ideas to this meaning. Polemarchus sees justice as “[owing] friends help, and [owing] enimes harm”, meaning giving back what is lawfully due to a person. While Thrasymachus sees justice as “nothing more than the advantage of the stronger.” Oddly enough, as Socrates observes these men’s definitions of justice, he presents no opinion of his own. It then comes to my attention that if Socrates cannot fully define what “justice” is, how can his theory using the principle of specialization be legitimate towards a just city?

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