Thursday, 16 February 2017

Justice and the Harmony of the Soul

Justice is spoken of in Plato's Republic as one of the four
 cardinal virtues; the others being wisdom, courage and 
self discipline (prudence; temperance or moderation in 
older translations) [428e]. Justice however, proves to be
 more difficult to define than the other virtues for the 
participants in the discussion, and they find that its definition 
cannot be approached directly. Therefore they decide to define 
the other virtues first, in the hope that what is left over 
will prove to be justice. 

After the other virtues have been defined, the participants
find that justice remains elusive. Socrates suggests a 
change of approach, and gains the agreement of 
Adeimantus and Glaucon that justice may be characteristic 
of both individuals and communities, and since
 communities are larger than individuals, justice may be 
easier to discern in the context of the polis "We may 
therefore find justice on a larger scale in the
larger entity, and so easier to recognize. I accordingly
 propose that we start our inquiry with the community, 
and then proceed to the individual and see if we can find 
in the conformation of the smaller entity anything similar 
to what we have found in the larger" [Rep. 368e-369a].

Socrates discusses the origin of the state (the polis) and
 argues that it arises out of need, because individuals are not
 self-sufficient. The basic needs are food, shelter and
clothing, and the creation of the polis supplies these needs.
 Such basic needs, he argues, are best met by the individuals
who make up the polis pursuing their own natural 
aptitudes, which are different for each and fit them for 
different jobs[369b-370b]. Hence Socrates argues that 
"we do better toexercise one skill" rather than attempting 
to practice several. Further, the workman must be able to 
function at the right moment for action and thus 
"a professional at the call of his job will not wait till he has 
leisure to spare for it" [370c]. The division of labour within 
the structure of the polis means that both the quality of the 
work done and the quantity produced are greater if 
individuals specialize in this way "on a single job for which 
he is naturally fitted, and neglects all others", whether he 
be a craftsman or a businessman.

Where then is justice in the state? Adeimantus suggests that
it is to be found somewhere in the mutual relationship of the
various elements which make up the state [372a]. The state is
not wise, for example, because of the knowledge of its
 carpenters concerning woodworking and the excellences of that
 craft [428a], no matter how vital the craft may be to life:
this kind of knowledge is too specific in its nature. Socrates
 asks whether there is 

"any form of knowledge to be found among
any of the citizens in the state... which is exercised not on
behalf on any particular interest but on behalf of the city as a whole, 
in such a way to benefit the state both in its
internal and external relations?" [428c] 

The answer is that there is, and it is possessed by the guardians, 
the class of citizens whose special purpose it is to defend the polis
(other men cannot do this and pursue their own natural
 abilities). These men, as citizens, are wise and capable of
being just in the abstract, rather than in the particular.
That is, it is possible for individual souls to be just, as
well as a community. The implication seems to be that they
 have some important feature in common which makes them just;
but what justice is, remains elusive, until Socrates remarks

"our quarry is lurking right under our feet all the time
and we haven't seen it... like people searching for
 something they have in their hands all the time" [432d].

He suggests that it is in fact the requirement laid down at
the beginning of the discussion, that "one man was to do one
job, the job he was naturally most suited for" [433a]; and
that it is the quality left over, after discipline, courage
and wisdom have been identified, which "makes it possible for
them to come into being in our state and preserves them by its
continued presence when they have done so" [433b]. 

He argues that the duty of the ruler is to administer justice, 
and that to do this they will "follow the principle that men 
should not take other people's belongings or be deprived of 
their own... their reason... being that it is ”just" [433e]. 
Injustice is therefore defined as the opposite of the pursuit 
of special excellences, so that someone attempting to move 
from one of the three principal classes in the polis to another, 
say from the class of artisans to the military class, by means of
wealth or physical strength, is attempting to enter a sphere
for which he is unfit; the same is true if the individual
 attempts to pursue several or all functions simultaneously.
 Socrates claims that "this sort of mutual interchange and
interference spells destruction to our state" [434a-b]; and
 describes such a state of affairs as "the worst of evils".

This then, is the soul writ large, and justice, having been
 defined in the state as the mutual relations of its various
elements, each pursuing its own special exellence and
 occupying its particular place within the social structure,
 must, if the individual is to be just, involve a similar
structure and set of relationships within the soul. 

Thus Socrates argues that there are three principal aspects of the
soul: the Reason, the Spirit, and the Appetite, corresponding
respectively to the three principal classes in the state,
 which are: the Guardians, the military class, and the class of
artisans and businessmen. Thus the whole structure of the state 
is tied in closely with the ‘Myth of the Cave’ and the ‘Simile
 of the Sun’, as well as the matter of the ‘Divided Line’, 
discussed later in the Republic

The first and third of these correspondences are fairly easy to 
understand, but the middle of the three is a different and difficult 
matter, and Plato himself is unclear about it, though he warns us 
that his method is not to be regarded as precise  Each of these
 aspects of the soul must follow its own interests, like the
various classes within the state. Justice is concerned,

"not with external actions, but with a man's inward self,
 his true concern and interest. The just man will not
allow the three elements... to trespass on each other's
 functions or interfere with each other, but, by keeping
all three in tune, like the notes of a scale... will in
the truest sense set his house to rights, attain self-mastery 
and order, and live on good terms with himself" [443c-e].

The just individual has become one instead of many and "will
be ready for action of any kind (recalling the workman
 pursuing his special excellence)... and will call the
knowledge which controls such action wisdom."  Injustice is
action which destroys this disposition and capacity, and 
opinions, as opposed to knowledge and wisdom, which 
control such action, are defined as ignorance [443e]:

"Injustice is a kind of civil war between these… three elements... when
the elements of the mind are confused and displaced... [this] 
constitutes injustice, indiscipline, cowardice,
ignorance, and, in short, wickedness of all kinds" [444b-c].

The relations of the parts of the soul, whether harmonious or
inharmonious, is further compared with the physical health of 
the body: health being defined as being produced by  
establishing a natural relation of control and subordination
among the constituents of the body, whereas disease is 
produced through the establishment of anun-natural 
relation [444d].

The question remains to be asked: if all these elements 
are to be bound together in harmony, how is this achieved
 by letting each constituent of the soul or state pursue its 
own special xcellence, its function?

 It seems to us a very laissez faire
arrangement, and clearly the polis is some kind of entity
beyond the mere assemblage of its parts. It would not do, for
example, for the entire body of the citizenry to consist of
 carpenters, no matter how great their skills, no matter how
 excellent their designs. Likewise, a polis full of Guardians
would have difficulty in supplying the needs of the citizenry
in respect of food, clothing and shelter. Clearly Plato
 assumes that a proper order, a proportionate order of the
classes of the citizens, is natural. I.e., that it is in the
nature of reality for separate things to be joined together in
 a proportionate way. It would seem that the way this
harmonious arrangement arises is by each of the elements of
 the whole pursuing its own special excellence, but it is not
 altogether obvious why this should work out properly.

The reason for the difficulty here is that we look at things
 upside down with respect to the Greek perception of reality.
 Assuming (as we tend to do) that reality is an aggregation of
elements which add up to make substance and action, we cannot
 easily understand how it is that order has a natural place 
in the resulting arrangements. But the Greeks thought (with the
exception of materialists like Democritus) teleologically, so
 that the universe (in toto) was thought of as complete and
 perfect in itself. 

What we encounter in our experience is this complete and 
perfect totality unwound and disassembled to
 various degrees, so that things are not present in the proper
 proportions and order. However, if things are brought to their
proper ends, to their own perfection and completion, then, on
the basis of the analogy with the cosmos at large, all the parts
 of that individual entity, that particular whole, must
be present in a proper and harmonious order (which echoes the
 character of the argument about the nature of the soul on the
basis of the larger entity of the polis). 

Thus it is that the pursuit of special excellences by individuals, 
in terms of skills, and moral and intellectual virtue,
without reference to the activities of other individuals, was 
understood to  result in such a harmonious arrangement. 
They are joined together as a consequence of the fact that each 
of the virtues is complete and perfected,  and thus each 
participates in the completion and perfection of, the individual, 
the polis, and ultimately the cosmos itself.*1 

*1 See Timaeus 31c-32c.


Plato: The Republic (penguin edn. transl. and introduction by
 Desmond Lee)
Plato: The Timaeus (penguin edn. transl. and introduction by
 Desmond Lee)
Onians, R.B:  The Origins of European Thought

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