WR150: The Ethics of Disenchantment
More than Defining Justice: The Republic’s Push to Modify its Readers’ Way of Thinking At first glance, Plato’s The Republic seems a tedious exercise in trying to follow one man’s irrational effort to construct a city when he was tasked simply with explaining a single word. However, the republic created by Socrates throughout the duration of the dialogue and the points that come from it are not as unnecessary or superfluous as they initially seem. The Republic is clearly a specifically worded dialogue about philosophy, but not necessarily only for philosophers. The seemingly excessive examples throughout the text are in fact a blueprint allowing for the general public to understand and assume Plato’s logic, ultimately bringing them not just to Socrates’ conclusion about justice as a balanced tripartite soul, but allowing them to have thought through the process along with Plato. In order to lead his readers through the thinking of a philosopher, Plato must first show them what a philosopher is not. Through the many definitions of justice proposed by Socrates’ peers, the reader is shown how not to think about the concept. The positions posed by Cephalus, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon are delivered quickly and seemingly with little thought. By contrast, Socrates’ definition of justice requires the creation of an entire city. As he more specifically explains in his allegory regarding the ship of state, there is a fairly sharp contrast between philosophers and the rest of the public, and the societal misunderstanding of the philosopher is a detriment to society. As David Sedley clarifies, “the expert’s understanding of the stars, contrasted with the sailors’ scornful ignorance . . . represents a gulf in communication between philosophers and the rest of society” (Sedley 261). The rashness of the sailors in dismissing the philosopher seems remarkably similar to the quickness with which Socrates’...
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