Friday, January 1, 2016

Plato’s Seventh Letter and his Republic

Bury says in his ‘Prefatory Note’ to the Seventh Letter: ‘From internal evidence we may infer that it was written after the murder of Dion (in 353 B.C.) and before the overthrow of the usurper Callippus in the following year. While the letter purports to be a message of “counsel” to Dion’s friends it really contains a description and a defence of the whole course of Plato’s participation in the political affairs of Sicily, and thus constitutes an elaborate Apologia pro vita sua.’ (Loeb Classical Library, Plato IX, p. 463)

In his Apologia, Plato says that from his youth he was determined to embark on a political career (epi ta koina tês poleȏs ienai, 324b9-c1), but that he never found favourable conditions for doing so: ‘The more I advanced in years myself, the more difficult appeared to me the task of managing the State rightly (tosoutȏi chalepȏteron ephaineto orthȏs einai moi ta politika dioikein, 325c8-d1) … until, finally, looking at all the States which now exist, I perceived that one and all they are badly governed (hoti kakȏs sumpasai politeuontai, 326a4) … So in my praise of the right philosophy (epainȏn tên orthên philosophian) I was compelled to declare (legein te ênankasthên) that by it (hȏs ek tautês) one is enabled to discern all forms of justice both political and individual (estin ta te politika dikaia kai ta tȏn idiȏtȏn panta katidein): wherefore the classes of mankind will have no cessation of evils (kakȏn oun ou lêxein ta anthrȏpina genê) until either the class of those who are right and true philosophers (prin an ê to tȏn philosophountȏn orthȏs ge kai alêthȏs genos) attains political supremacy (eis archas elthêi tas politikas), or else the class of those who hold power in the States (ê to tȏn dunasteuontȏn en tais polesin) becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic (ek tinos moiras theias ontȏs philosophêsêi). This was the view I held when I came to Italy and Sicily, at the time of my first arrival’ (Tautên de tên dianoian echȏn eis Italian te kai Sikelian êlthon, hote to prȏton aphikomên, 326a5-b6, tr. Bury). – Plato was about forty years old (schedon etê tettarakonta gegonȏs) when he originally arrived at Syracuse (324a5-6).

Bury comments on ‘So in my praise of the right philosophy I was compelled to declare’: ‘An obvious reference to Rep. 473 D, 501 E.’

At Rep. 473c11-d6 Socrates says to Glaucon: ‘Until philosophers are kings in their cities (Ean mê ê hoi philosophoi basileusȏsin en tais polesin), or the kings and princes of this world  (ê hoi basilês te nun legomenoi kai dunastai) have the spirit and power of philosophy (philosophêsȏsi gnêsiȏs te kai hikanȏs), and political greatness and wisdom meet in one (kai touto eis t’auton sumpesêi, dunamis te politikê kai philosophia), and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside (tȏn de nun poreuomenȏn chȏris eph’ hekateron hai pollai phuseis ex anankês apokleisthȏsi), cities will never have rest from their evils (ouk esti kakȏn paula tais polesi).’

At Rep. 501e2-4 Socrates tells Adeimantus: ‘Until philosophers bear rule (prin an to philosophȏn genos enkrates genêtai), States and individuals will have no rest from evil (oute polei oute politais kakȏn paula estai).’

But from the point of view of Plato’s Apologia in the Seventh Letter it is Republic 499b1-c5, which is particularly relevant. Socrates tells Adeimantus: ‘Truth forced us to admit, not without fear and hesitation, that neither cities nor States nor individuals will ever attain perfection until the small class of philosophers whom we termed useless but not corrupt are in consequence of some chance compelled, whether they will or not, to undertake the care of the State, and until a like necessity be laid on the State to obey them; or until kings, or if not kings, the sons of kings or princes, are divinely inspired with a true love of true philosophy. That either or both of these alternatives are impossible (toutȏn de potera genesthai ê amphotera hȏs ara estin adunaton), I, at least, see no reason to affirm (egȏ men oudena phêmi echein logon): if they were so, we might indeed be justly ridiculed (houtȏ gar an hêmeis dikaiȏs katagelȏimetha) as dreamers and visionaries (hȏs allȏs euchai homoia legontes). Am I not right (ê ouch houtȏs)?’ – ‘Quite right (Houtȏs),’ replied Adeimantus.

It was Plato’s firm conviction that the State governed by philosophers is not an empty dream, that it can become a reality, and that only if a philosopher finds a State which is suitable to him, he/she will realize his/her full human potential (497a), which prompted Dion to appeal to him and ask him to come to Syracuse and help him transform the young Dionysius into a philosopher.


Concerning my ‘he/she’ and ‘his/her’ see Glaucon’s appreciation of Socrates’ depiction of the character of a true philosopher at the close of Book VII ‘You are a sculptor, Socrates, and have wrought statues of our governors (tous archontas) faultless in beauty’, to which Socrates replies: ‘Yes, Glaucon, and our governesses too (Kai tas archousas, ȏ Glaukȏn) ; for you must not suppose (mêden gar ti oiou) that what I have been saying applies to men only (me peri andrȏn eirêkenai mallon ha eirêka) and not to women (ê peri gunaikȏn) as far as their natures can go (hosai an autȏn hikanai tas phuseis engignȏntai).’ – Glaucon: ‘There you are right (Orthȏs), since we have made them to share in all things like the men (eiper isa ge panta tois andrasi koinȏnêsousi, hȏs diêlthomen, 540c3-9).’ (All translations quoted from the Republic are B. Jowett’s)

No comments:

Post a Comment