Plato’s Republic, Book I – A few notes

This is only a short overview of some of the interesting ideas I got out of the book. This post is intended for those who’ve read the book and would like to see what other people have extracted from it. Overviews of the book can be found elsewhere.

First definition of morality: always telling the truth and giving back what one has borrowed. – But what if an insane man asks you where another man is with the intention of killing him? What if a man lets you borrow his knife and then asks for it back with the intention of killing himself or others?

Second definition of morality: doing good to friends and evil to enemies. – When you inflict real harm upon an individiual he becomes a worse man. The true virtue of man is morality. When you harm a man you therefore make him less moral. Can moral people use morality to make people less moral? Socrates’ answer is that moral people never commit immoral acts, only immoral people.

Third definition of morality: morality is the advantage of the stronnger pary, since governments put laws in place to their own advantage, telling its citizens what is just and moral. But what if the rulers accidentally pass laws which are contrary to their actual goals?

Thrasymachus asserts that rulers are not actual rulers when they pass laws contrary to their own benefit. In the strict sense of the word “ruler”, they rule perfectly. Socrates compares rulership to other expertise – doctors, in the strict sense of the word, only care for their subjects.

Thrasymachus decides to change tactics and asserts that morality is in fact bad for the person in possession of it, and that immoral people always come on top economically and socially over the moral people.

Socrates states that perfectly immoral people are incapable of working with one another, or with anyone else for that matter. They fall out with everyone and those qualities still hold power within a single individual. Immorality is, therefore, a bad mental state.

A mind’s tasks are many: finance, authority, management, etc. To perform those tasks aptly, and to live well, the mind needs its special function. Following the arguments of the last paragraph, immorality is a bad mental state, and morality a good one. Therefore, a moral person will live a more rewarding and fulfilling life.

  • Cephalus provides some timeless wisdom about life and old age. Many people blame old age for their troubles, such as less interest and capabilities in physical activities, or decreased social bonds. Cephalus, on the other hand, looks at it as an opportunity to inquire into human virtues, and finds conversation as enjoyable as he used to find physical activities. He asserts that anything bad that old age might bring can be canceled by having a good-temper and self-discipline.
  • Socrates defines three modes of payment: money, honor, and punishment. Moral people are not hungry for money or honor. The only payment they take for ruling will be punishment; the punishment of worse men then themselves ruling.
  • Throughout this book/chapter, Socrates makes his interlocutors define morality as an expertise, and therefore they all have a difficult time trying to define what morality actually is (not just some superficial parts of it). The truth is that morality is far wider than any field of expertise and has a different purpose.

Quotes:

‘In my case, you see, declining interest in physical pleasures is exactly matched by increasing desire for and enjoyment of conversation.’

‘I do in fact enjoy talking to very old people, because I think we ought to learn from them. They’ve gone ahead of us, as it were, on a road which we too will probably have to travel, and we ought to find out from them what the road is like – whether it is rough and hard, or easy and smooth.’

‘But to my mind, Socrates, they are holding an innocent responsible. If old age were to blame, then I too would have had the same experiences as them…’

‘”How do you feel about sex, Sophocles? Are you still capable of having sex with a woman?” He replied, “Be quiet, man! To my great delight, I have broken free of that, like a slave who has got away from a rabid and savage master.”‘

‘When the desires lose their intensity and ease up, then what happens is absolutely as Sophocles described – freedom from a great many demented masters.’

‘If someone is self-disciplined and good-tempered, old age isn’t too much of a burden; otherwise, it’s not just a question of old age, Socrates – such a person will find life difficult when he’s young as well.’

-When a Seriphian says that Themistocles was only famous because he was Athenian, ‘”It is true that I wouldn’t have become famous if I were a Seriphian, but it’s also true that you wouldn’t if you were an Athenian.”‘

‘Anyone who discovers that during his life he has commited a lot of crimes wakes up constantly in terror from his dreams, as children do, and also lives in dread; on the other hand, anyone who is aware of no wrong in himself faces the future with confidence and optimism which, as Pindar says as well, “comforts him in old age.”

‘Can a moral person harm anyone?’

‘Because immorality makes for mutual conflict, hatred, and antagonism, while moral behaviour makes for concord and friendship.’

‘The ultimate punishment for being unwilling to assume authority oneself is to be governed by a worse person, and it is fear of this happening, I think, which prompts good men to assume power occasionally.’

‘If it’s a function of immorality to generate hatred in its train, then wherever it arises among people – people from any walk of life – won’t it make them hate one another and clash with one another and be incapable of doing things together?’

‘What is at stake is far from insignificant: it is how one should live one’s life.’

 

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Plato’s Crito – A few notes

This is only a short overview of some of the important ideas I got out of the book. This post is intended for those who’ve read the book and would like to see what other people have extracted from it. Overviews of the book can be found elsewhere.

‘But my dear Crito, why should we pay so much attention to what ‘most people’ think? The most sensible people, who have more claim to be considered, will believe that things have been done exactly as they have.’

‘They cannot make a man wise or foolish; they achieve whatever luck would have it.'(Of the multitude)

‘I cannot abandon the arguments which I used to expound in the past simply because this accident has happened to me.’

‘So he ought to regulate his notions and exercises and eating and drinking by the judgement of his instructor, who has expert knowledge, rather than by the opinions of the rest put together.’

‘Do we say that there is no way one must ever willingly commit injustice, or does it depend upon circumstance?’

‘Because, I suppose, there is no difference between injuring people and doing them an injustice?’

‘”You will confirm the opinion of the jurors, so that they’ll seem to have given a correct verdict – for any destroyer of the laws might very well be supposed to have a destructive influence upon young and foolish human beings.”‘

‘”And will no one comment on the fact that an old man of your age, probably with only a short time left to live, should dare to cling so greedily to life, at the price of violating the most stringent of laws?”‘

‘”No, Socrates; be advised by us who raised you – do not think more of your children or of your life or of anything else than you think of what is just.”‘

  1. Socrates stays by his views on life, whatever the circumstances. He will not escape prison unless that is proven to be the just course.
  2. A man ought only to give heed to the advice given by experts. Public opinion sways with every gust of wind, ‘achieving whatever luck would have it.’ If a man only considers the opinion of the multitude, both his body and soul will deteriorate.           ‘I have always been of the opinion that unpopularity earned by doing what is right is not unpopularity at all, but glory.’ – Cicero
  3. According to Socrates one must never commit injustice willingly, even when one has been wronged himself. As Plato noted in the Republic, a moral person could not use his morality to make people less moral.
  4. Reasons why Socrates’ staying in prison is the just course:
  5. 1. Socrates could have left the city at any point he’d like. With him staying in Athens his whole life he’s made an agreement with the Laws to follow them, whatever their course (somewhat tyrannical?). Even during Socrates’ trial he could have proposed his punishment to be exile, and the jurors would surely have allowed it. Escaping prison would mean Socrates breaking his 70 year pact with Athens.
  6. 2. By breaking the laws of Athens Socrates would go against much of his own philosophy to save his own life, proving himself to be a coward.
  7. 3. By escaping prison Socrates would set a bad example to his followers, proving his jurors’ accusations right.

Plato’s Apology – A few notes

This is only a short overview of some of the interesting ideas I got out of the book. This post is intended for those who’ve read the book and would like to see what other people have extracted from it. Overviews of the book can be found elsewhere.

‘At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.’

‘So I made myself spokesman for the oracle and asked myself whether I would rather be as I was – neither wise with their wisdom nor ignorant with their ignorance – or posses both qualities as they did.’

‘You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action; that is, whether he is acting justly or unjustly, like a good man or a bad one.’

‘To be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when he is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know.’

‘If on the other hand I tell you that to let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself and others is really the very best thing a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living, you will be ever less inclined to believe me.’

‘But I did not think that I ought to stoop to servility because I was in danger.’

‘Now if there is no consciousness but only a dreamless sleep, death must be a marvellous gain.’

  1. Socrates won’t accept any arguments or values unless they pass his logical scrutiny. He does not claim that his wisdom is superhuman, only that it is based on argument rather than belief.
  2. Socrates does not give heed to anything but for what is just, sticking to his principles even in the face of death.
  3. Instead of trying to enlighten Socrates on his own supposed vices, Meletus drags Socrates to court. He does not try to instruct Socrates, but rather punish him.
  4. Socrates does not bring pitiful appealers to the courtroom since that would cater towards the jurors’ emotions instead of their logical thinking.
  5. The reason for Socrates’ trial and death were ancient slanderers who appealed to young, impressionable men who could not make their own counter-arguments.
  6. Socrates refuses to go on living without exercising his own personal excellence – philosophy.
  7. According so Socrates, fear of death is only a claim to knowledge when you are in fact ignorant.
  8. By condemning Socrates to death the jurors got much more of what they were trying to rid themselves off, making Socrates a martyr for philosophy when he would have died naturally in the course of a few years.