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VCU POLI 107 - POLI-107 Notes and Spotlight

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Instructor Blogs:PlatoRepublicis a text that many believe completely captures Plato’s political and moral philosophy, while also covering economics, psychology, art and education. The text’s principal arguments are deductively derived; in other words, they are the careful work of reasoned contemplation as opposed to empirical observation. Few stones are left unturned in this text because, it would appear, Plato wanted to convey how political theory encompassed the entirety of human life (39).The question of a good human being, including the realization of their needs and wants, is inextricably bound up in the question of the good state. Further, the resolution of these questions is achieved on the back of a guiding proposition inherited from Socrates: virtue is knowledge.I chose to assign a portion of the text so that you could directly experience the style and structureof his argument. Plato employed Socrates as his mouthpiece within the dialogue, so Socrates’ comments should be associated with Plato. It is also important to stress that Plato’s entire argument is deductive. He does not even try to explain justice by referencing any actual, real world events. In Socrates’ view, which Plato embraces wholly inThe Republic, real world eventsare unnecessary if one can understand the pure idea of something. Admittedly, throughout the text Socrates is pressed to do more than simply provide theoretical explanations, revealing a persistent theme in the text: the tension between theory and practice.The assigned section relates a conversation between Socrates and his companions about Justice and what it means to be a just person. As the dialogue unfolds, we quickly find out that the questions, “what is justice?” and “why would someone be just?”, are not very easy to answer. Socrates polls his friends, discovers what are common ideas of justice in his day – ideas which are not terribly unusual even in light of our own experiences, and then observes the various problems with each.As Socrates moves from friend to friend, probing their views of justice only to find fault, it is natural to wonder what Socrates is trying to do. Is he merely out to embarrass his friends? Despite what we read in the “Defense of Socrates”, I do not think this is his objective at all. Rather, Socrates is genuinely curious about what people think of such an important question, andhe is concerned because the conventional, common views are incomplete or simply wrong. This is highly problematic if we can all agree that justice should be the foundation for a happy society and a happy person, isn’t it? Either we would build a city upon an idea of justice that, being flawed, will not work, or we will spend our time arguing about it and never really making progress.This reinforces a point which Socrates later coaxes – perhaps, tricks? – Thrasymachus into admitting: we really do not want someone who does not know what they are doing to rule (340d-e, 341, page 48-50). Socrates later plainly identifies that there is, in fact, a link between justice, wisdom, and virtue, such that it is just when someone knows what is Good and then actuallyisGood to the best of their ability (350a, page 53-54).Interestingly, while his friends do not actively dispute Socrates’ idea of justice, they end up attacking the notion that someone would actually want to be just. I don’t expect we would be surprised by arguments linking injustice to deficiencies in one’s character, but I do find it sad that a good person would lead an unjust life. According to Socrates, injustice should never be a product of true goodness. Nevertheless, we are confronted by reasons why anyone of sound mindwould opt to be unjust even if they were capable of behaving differently.It should not surprise us that Plato is relentless in his efforts to overcome our weaknesses, and the challenges that litter Book II ofRepublic, through his political theory. As the dialogue progresses (beyond what you were assigned), we learn more about Plato’s views of effective and necessary leadership – effective in the sense that this type of leader will be able to enable the virtue of the citizenry, and necessary in the sense that without this type of leader, justice will remain out of reach. As we touched upon earlier, this type of leader is the philosopher.The philosopher is a lover of learning and capable of achieving the knowledge of the Good which defines the right order of society. Philosophers, however, are a rare breed, which also means that a vast majority of any city’s citizens will lack what leadership requires. Hence, we characterize the role of the philosopher as necessary. You will learn more about this in the lecture on Plato, as well as whether we are meant to take him seriously, or if his views remain consistent across his other political texts. Play close attention, in particular, to his logic of power,and its linkage to human excellence, well-being and happiness.Aristotle:Important Note:The reader provides a glimpse intoPolitics, which is a much more extensive work. To complement the assigned selection, I’ve opted to reference additional passages in this post in order to shine a light on important themes referenced in the assigned selection, as well as in the lecture for this unit. I’ve opted to include general citations, which would help you find the quotes in any text, and the page number from thePrincetonreader where appropriate.Aristotle’sPoliticsconsiders both the practical and the ideal. On the one hand, he contemplates upon the ideal constitution without regard to likely obstacles societies would face in its implementation. This is to understand why and how constitutions contribute to the pursuit of human excellence. On the other hand, he evaluates constitutions in terms of their practicability. The latter draws from the former in that the ideal represents certain qualities that the practical constitutions should strive toward. In the end, Aristotle does not advocate for a single form of government. Instead, he stresses the qualities that good governments should emulate with the aim of building a self-sufficient community.Aristotle regarded self-sufficiency to entail both material and moral ends. In other words, a self-sufficient city should be able to produce all it needs, from goods and services to virtue and justice. Thusly, the satisfaction of our material and moral ends


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