Archive for Plato

The Tyrannical Soul

Posted in Philosophy with tags , , on December 2, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

The tyrant is the man, or woman, I suppose whose lawless pleasure take control. When such is the case there is no matter of sin that this person will consider repulsive. They are utterly devoid of all sense of shame and reason. This person “in a word, falls short of no extreme of folly and shamelessness.” (571 D) He becomes drunken, erotic, maniacal. (573 C) After describing the tyrannical man and how such a man is raised, Plato turns his attention to the constitution of the man by drawing parallels between the tyrannical state and the tyrannical man. From his examination of the tyrannical state Plato concludes that although some small minority appears free and happy, the vast majority is oppressed and wretched. He thus infers that likewise the tyrannical man is enslaved.

Judging the tyrannical man to be like the tyrannical city, Plato says this, “that the real tyrant is really enslaved to cringings and servitudes beyond compare.” (579 E) The idea here is that although the tyrannical man appears to be indulging all his appetites hedonistically, he actually is only indulging a select group of his appetites. Namely, the lawless ones that ought to be governed with reason. Instead these lawless appetites enslave the tyrannical man and contrary to appearances, or perhaps even what the man himself believes, the majority of his soul is enslaved and oppressed. It is in this sense I think that Christians are “free to do good.” It seems to me that there are strong parallels between the tyrannical man and the “unsaved” man. Both are slaves to passions and desires that dominate them.

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What is Justice?

Posted in Philosophy with tags , on November 29, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

What is Justice? Undoubtedly a very important question but certainly not easily answered. In Plato’s Republic Thasymachus argues that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger. The following discussion is very surface, mainly aimed at sparking discussion and thought on the subject. There is some of my own personal thought (though somewhat undeveloped) towards the end. I may write more on this in the future.

After Thasymschus says justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger he follows it with the example that each government whether democratic, tyrannical, or aristocracy each make laws similar to their respective forms. In other words the United States’ democratic government makes democratic laws. “And they declare what they have made- what is to their own advantage- to be just for their subjects, and they punish anyone who goes against this as lawless and unjust.” (Republic I 338e) Because the concept of justice is closely tied to the concept of law, it can be assumed that Thrasymachus affirms “law” as a thing tied to the subjective nature of whichever government a person might find him or herself in. Therefore if the law is simply those in power creating laws that reflect them because of their advantage, justice is as subjective and arbitrary as law.

Thrasymachus’ theory is particularly interesting because of the ties it might have to the Christian concept of government and justice such as Paul outlines in Romans 13. For my own opinion I’d like to borrow Aristotle’s distinction between Natural and Legal Justice. If we say that Thrasymachus is speaking only about Legal Justice, than I agree with him because I believe Earthly kingdoms are concerned with the protection of what is their own and often define justice generally as what they do. But being that I am a Christian I do believe there is a second half of Justice, namely the Natural side, and Thrasymachus’ theory cannot be applied here. Natural Justice could not be as subjective as Thrasymachus makes justice out to be in my opinion.

How do we know?

Posted in Philosophy with tags , , on November 15, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

If one does not know what something is, can one know anything about it? The answer depends on your definition of “know what something is”. If by “know what something” is you mean to know something as it is in itself than I am very skeptical about your ability to do that. If however, by “know what something is” you mean that you are aware of it, conscious of its presence, and sure of its existence though you may not know it as it exists in itself than my response is most hopeful. I am very skeptical about Man’s ability to know things (any things) as they are in themselves. This however does not lead me to believe that I do not know anything about anything. Consider even the subject of this reading, Meno.

Socrates manages to convince Meno, and most likely the reader too, that they do not know what virtue is as well as they thought they did. He might even convince them that they do not know what virtue is at all. But he cannot ever convince them that they do not know anything about virtue. How can it be shown that they know something about virtue? Namely because they talk about virtue, describe its effects, and can articulate when someone is acting virtuous or is not. Certainly there are somethings that I know not what they are and consequently I know nothing about them. But all the same there are a great many things that although I do not know what they are I know something about them. Of course I must acknowledge that I do not believe I am using the word “know” in the same way that Socrates is. But that is because there are different meanings and understandings of what it means to know. Socrates wishes to focus on the highest form of knowing, that is knowing something as it is in itself. In that regard I agree with him that there seems little hope of ever reaching that place. But there is a kind of knowing that conforms itself to my perceptions and becomes apparent to me. I may not know it in itself but I know its effects, some of its qualities, and I know the part of that thing which conforms to my perceptions.

Can a good person be harmed?

Posted in Philosophy with tags , on November 13, 2012 by taylorvincentroche

Can a good person be harmed? Socrates, speaking through Plato, argues that it would be impossible for a good person to ever suffer any harm. For Socrates describing someone as a good person is equivalent to describing someone as a virtuous person. So one could rephrase the question, is it possible for a virtuous person to be harmed? As just stated, Socrates answers no to this question on the grounds that virtue is sufficient for all happiness. If being virtuous means being happy. Harm, according to Socrates, is a deprivation of happiness. Here it is important not to over simplify Socrates’ definition of happiness and instead think of happiness as flourishing. One might say that according to Socrates, harm is deprivation of flourishing. Thus keeping a person from flourishing or reducing their flourishing in any way is and should be considered harming them. But notice here the clever trap Socrates has set, a virtuous (or good) person is one that enjoys full flourishing. Consequently no matter what might be done to that person, so long as they remain good or virtuous, they cannot be harmed. Socrates’ system means that if a person is virtuous, than they are happy and live with full human flourishing. Because harming someone is reducing human flourishing, it is impossible to harm someone who is virtuous. Being that human flourishing is by definition being virtuous. Socrates’ system looks appealing at first glance and indeed has redeemable qualities, greatest of which is perhaps the weight placed upon being virtuous. However a closer examination is needed before making a definite decision. In particular a closer examination of Socrates’ definition of terms and how those correspond to actual uses of the same terms.

The immediate problem is that Socrates’ has simply defined terms in such a way that his premises cannot but lead to his conclusion. In particular Socrates states that “harm” is, generally speaking, hindering human flourishing. This is a definition that most will readily accept. But then Socrates states that virtue is all that is necessary for human flourishing, which he refers to as happiness. Such a statement hardly seems true. Although most will agree that harm is a hindering of human flourishing, many will also agree that if person X where to cut off person Y’s hand, he would most certainly be hindering person Y’s flourishing and or happiness. But notice that in cutting off person Y’s hand person X has done nothing to hinder person Y’s ability to be virtuous. Indeed perhaps the contrary is true, and person Y has just been provided an excellent opportunity to be virtuous. Of course this kind of statement is preposterous. Person X has harmed person Y. Now Socrates might argue that person X has not truly harmed person Y, but than it seems that he has simply decided to use the words “harm”, “virtue” and “flourishing” in a different fashion than anyone else. While this would not necessarily defeat Socrates’ argument it would drastically weaken it. Socrates may offer slightly new definitions but to so fundamentally change the meaning of the word “harm” hints at simply creating a new word.

Socrates’ argument is appealing and quite interesting. Despite what I have just said I would agree with Socrates that there is a degree to which a good or virtuous person cannot be harmed. This statement needs some qualification however for the reasons expressed above. Namely that there are some events where people do not lose the ability to be virtuous but certainly seem to have been harmed. It is possible to come up with a definition of “harm” where said people have not actually experienced harm, but this seems to be inventing a new word particularly because this is not how we speak of being harmed. Rather than openly invent a new word, I propose we simply draw a distinction between types of harm, or as I have said earlier, qualify Socrates’ statement.