Biography (427-347 B.C.E)
The World of Forms
- Only these Forms are truly real, the physical world possesses only a relative reality
- Forms assure order in a world that is in constant state of change
- They provide the pattern from which the world of sense achieves meaning
- The supreme idea is the Idea of the Good
- Humans, in an uninstructed state, are chained in a world of shadows and false perceptions
- Harmony of the Universe comes from realization and acceptance of the Idea of the Good, which is the center of truth.
Allegory of the Cave
Doctrine of Innatism
We all possess immortal souls which have had previous existence. All learning is just recollection, or anamnesis. We recall the world of forms, but only a few can get past the world of sense and imagination to see it.
The title “Republic” is derived from the Latin title given to the work by Cicero. Plato’s Greek language title, Politeia, described the government of a Polis or city-state. The character Socrates and his friends discuss the nature of an ideal city.
Plato’s Criticism of How Others Saw Justice
- Cephalus suggests that justice means “paying one’s debts.”
- Socrates responds, asking what about giving an insane man a weapon?
- Polemarchus says justice is “doing good to friends and harm to enemies.”
- Socrates responds, asking “do we not make something worse if we harm it?”
- Socrates says that the version of justice advanced by Polemarchus would lead to making people more unjust.
Glaucon and the Ring of Gyges
- Glaucon argued that by nature humans are selfish and unjust and that justice is not good in itself; instead, justice is a consequential good (it is only valued for the beneficial consequences.
- Glaucon told the story of The Ring of Gyges in an attempt to illustrate his point that justice has a “relative value due to our inability to do wrong.”
- Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia. He found a ring, which turned him invisible when he twisted it onto his finger. Gyges used this power of invisibility to commit unjust acts; he seduced the queen and then worked with her to create a plan to kill the king and take over the kingdom. Because the ring made him invisible, Gyges was protected from the consequences of his actions.
- Glaucon then went on to propose a thought experiment; he said if two of these rings existed and we gave one ring to a just man and the other ring to an unjust man, then they would both proceed to do unjust things. If the just man also did become unjust when given the ring, then it would prove Glaucon’s point that people are not just out of choice; justice does not serve us personally and we would always do the wrong thing if we had the chance.
- Now if a just man came into possession of such a ring, claims Glaucon, he would use it do exactly what the unjust man does — kill his enemies, have sex with anyone he fancied, get his friends out of danger, and all with impunity.