> The Republic - Book VII

The Republic - Book VII

Posted on Monday, March 2, 2009 | No Comments

At first, I was pretty agitated with this reading because of the way it is written. It is more elegant than our vernacular, but takes longer to read and interpret because of its unfamiliarity. Fortunately, I got comfortable reading and interpreting it fairly quickly.

I have never read The Republic and, as such, would prefer to have more time to soak this reading in and interpret it a little better, but I think I get the overall gist of what Socrates is saying. To be honest, the reading started to grow on me after the first twenty minutes or so.

The opening point Socrates makes about having to adjust to the light or the dark is interesting because it points out that there is a disconnect between the two. The den-dwellers and light-dwellers are inherently separated, but this does not make it impossible for one to understand the other's way of living. I assume the light-dwellers he is talking about are the upper-class citizens and the den-dwellers are the lower-class citizens. In his ideal State, the light-dwellers must take their turn in the den, which is where they will learn to see the "just and good" in the truth of the images and objects in den. To me, this means that a light-dweller is unfit to partake in political matters until he has spent enough time in the den to learn what it is like for the den-dwellers. Politicians should know firsthand the life of the lower class before engaging in political matters which directly affect them.

Socrates begins discussing the Guardians of the State, specifically how these people should be chosen. He reasons that those who are chosen should not be lovers of the task because there will be rival lovers and they will fight. I would imagine that those who are lovers of engaging in political matters would fight other lovers that have conflicting opinions or points of view and, instead of fighting for what's just and good, they would eventually start fighting for the sake of "winning". The best Guardians of the State may be those who are least interested or least willing to do it. I believe this is so because people who appear to be greatly interested in politics quite often have ulterior motives and are not driven by the desire to see what's just and good come to fruition; they are instead driven by the desire of wealth or power. People who are uninterested in political matters will, for most topics, be unbiased. With nothing to gain from their choice and with all the information and evidence from both sides of the case presented to them, they will choose what they perceive to be the most just and most good.

Socrates goes on to explain that the Guardians of the State will need to be educated. He discusses four sciences that he feels would be the most valuable -- Arithmetic, Planar Geometry, Solid Geometry, and Astronomy. One of his reasons for choosing these sciences is that those who are or become adept at them are "generally quick at every other kind of knowledge."

Socrates mentions during his discussion about Arithmetic a very interesting property of objects. He divides them into inviting and uninviting objects -- those which compel you to question them and those that merely enter your subconscious and leave again without inciting any serious thought. I thought this was rather clever and it reminded me of a discussion we had in class a few weeks ago. An example of inviting objects would be numbers. Because they are abstract, you are forced to think about them and ask questions about them. An uninviting object might be a chair, a lamp, or any common household item you can think of.

After discussing the other three sciences, Socrates finally delves into the details of what he calls Dialectic. I'll try to explain it in my own words, but I believe this quote does an excellent job of it:

"And so with dialectic; when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of sight at the end of the visible."
This reminds me a lot of software programming. I was always taught that the art of programming is that of problem solving. You start by looking at a problem and begin to break it down into smaller problems. The initial problem is usually too great in scope to be solved alone, so breaking it into smaller problems is a necessity. This requires a great deal of thought and perseverance and can only be done with logic, reason, and intelligence. After struggling and struggling, a solution to the problem is finally found. It works, but it can work better. So begins the refining process. The goal now is to find the absolute best possible way, in terms of efficiency, size, ease of use, and functionality, to solve the problem. To me, this process feels a lot like the way dialectic is described in this quote.

Overall, I would say I have to agree with most of what Socrates says in this book. I kind of like the political structure he describes and I think that people could make it work if they wanted to. Although some might say that his ideas are far-fetched and fantastical, it is dreamers like him that allow such thoughts to even come into existence in the first place.

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