Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On Society and Government: First Installment (H1)

What makes a perfect society? Is it something truly achievable or something only to be imagined? With either answer, people will speculate and alter their idea of a perfect society in discussion no matter what. Here, we seek to examine the idea of the perfect society Plato presents through the eyes of Socrates in The Republic. I will then give my own take on exactly what makes a perfect society and where I seem some fault with the one Plato gives.

When we examine what Plato had in mind regarding government and the perfect state, we must also examine the idea of "justice" that Plato gives us. To begin with this, in the beginning of The Republic, during a debate about the definition of justice, Socrates ascribes to it the idea that it is more advantageous to be just than unjust, so therefore being just is what one should strive for. 

My idea of justice coincides with Socrates' definition of it here somewhat. I believe that ultimately, it will serve you better to be just rather than to be unjust, with being just meaning to live according to your morals and the moral of the society around you. These two sort of go hand in hand as per the nature v. nurture argument, we know that the environment that one grows up in ultimately influences one's personality and traits as they grow up, so if certain morals are decided on for a society, then those can easily be distilled in and passed on to younger generations. But what makes a good and moral society? This is something Plato examines when we get further into The Republic. 

The idea of a set of protectors or "guardians" is given, a group of elite with the knowledge and wherewithal to take care of the state. In the next installment we will be viewing this government more in depth but for now we will focus on the society as a whole. Plato thinks these guardians should come from an elite class raised from birth with this objective of being the state's protectors in mind, shaping their education and training as such. The class system Plato establishes in order to achieve this is fairy rigid, though he does allow for some upward mobility. Living in a society today with a class system, while I understand it is hard to avoid I feel that the one Plato has set up leaves something to be desired. Plato's system is not nearly flexible enough to accommodate the various skills people might be born with, and does not provide an equal education to everyone and thus makes it harder for those lower on the social rug to climb higher. If we were to redo Plato's idea of a perfect state, I think this is one aspect that would need to be addressed immediately: education. 

I would re-imagine Plato's system so that every child from each of Plato's three classes gets an opportunity at the same education before being written off into their assigned place in life. Plato gives leeway for if a child exhibits exceptionalism, but what opportunity is there for a child to exhibit such a trait early on enough if they are not given a chance? Plato needs to start the education about the morals he wants exhibited in the city through philosophy early and make it available to all children. A child raised from a lower class might have a different perspective and bring a new view to the ruling class. 

Part of the moral education we are now presenting to everyone includes the telling of stories. In The RepublicSocrates and the others agree that any evil or unjust acts attributable to the gods should be left out, as the gods must always appear just and good. Here again I would like to disagree with Plato and Socrates. Many times there have been stories of how the gods commit faults for various reasons and leaving these stories out of the child's education seems more blasphemous than keeping them in. With these stories of faults, knowledge is to be gained. Looking at the Christian God as an example, one of the most well-known stories from the Bible is how God flooded the world, killing everything and everyone on it except for a select few because he was dissatisfied with the state of the world and the corruption that he saw. Afterwards, God recognizes that what he did was wrong and promises not to do it ever again, sending a rainbow as an apology. This recognition of when you make mistakes and humility in accepting them is something that a just society needs and which can be learned from stories of gods making mistakes or doing unjust things. Humility is important in a just society because we all make mistakes, that's a part of being human and where Plato likes to admit it or not, his guardians are human and will falter. Learning how to properly deal with out mistakes and apologize is a skill many lack even today though it should be a trait sought after in the ruling class and even just society in general. 

When we look at the lifestyle presented in The Republic, I tend to agree with Plato on the belief that the state will function best when each person is in a position doing what makes him or her happy and when they are left to do it without any outside interference. Plato's assumption that when the individual is happy, the state is happy and vice versa again leaves a little something to be desired, but ultimately this lifestyle seems most suitable, but may only work for a small community or population. However, the idea that all spouses and children must be shared takes the saying it takes a village to raise a child a bit too far. 

Once again, altering Plato's line of thinking here, I believe that relationships should be left to the discretion of the individuals involved and that the state should have no part in regulating this and forcing people to either be with each other or not. As for the children, while in this perfect society the children will need to receive education from various sources in order to become well-rounded leaders and citizens, I believe these children should be allowed to stay with their family units in order to learn to develop healthy relationships and get a personalized education. If all the children received the same upbringing and same education, then what opportunity would there be for real new and opposing views to develop that may be discussed and put to the benefit of the state? 

So when we look over the ideal society Plato has presented in his The Republic, we see that while some aspects are certainly desirable and agreeable, some others should be changed or altered in order to truly become a "just" society. Socrates ultimately present the definition of justice as being when all parts work together so that each part fulfills a role and contributes back to the society. I believe the state which I have presented better fulfills this definition than the previous state, as it allows for true equality across the classes through the means of education but also allows for the privacy in personal affairs that Socrates and Plato seem to desire. 

Word Count: 1246


  1. I think you've pointed out an excellent solution to Plato's quirky polis. While I, like you, agree that it has strong qualities, I was always deterred from accepting his utopia because it leaves no room for social mobility. With Platos definition of justice being essentially that everyone stays in line and does their designated duty, it's hard to compromise the organization of the society, but I think you offered a perfect solution. Allowing people to be classified as guardian, soldier or laborer after receiving equal education, and a chance to prove themselves more worthy than their heritage might suggest, would result in a more well rounded society with the assurance that people's classifications are suitable to their identity and abilities.

  2. I think you're right, the big missing ingredient in Plato's ideal republic is equality of opportunity for advancement.

    "God recognizes that what he did was wrong" - I confess that the rainbow apology was never presented in my Sunday School. How can a perfect being admit to wrong? Better question: how can there be a perfect being? Or a perfect society? And how practically useful is it to pretend to have devised a blueprint for the perfect society?

    On the other hand, the recent election has many of us wondering if Plato wasn't onto something when he proposed keeping merchants and tradesmen out of politics.