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Does Plato's Republic Propose A Rigid Class System?

 
 
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 03:35 pm
When I first learned about Plato in high school, I was disappointed by the division of human beings into gold, silver, and iron or brass.
Quote:
While all of you in the city are brothers, we will say in our tale, yet God in fashioning those of you who are fitted to hold rule mingled gold in their generation, for which reason they are the most precious—but in the helpers silver, and iron and brass in the farmers and other craftsmen. And as you are all akin, though for the most part you will breed after your kinds.
-The Republic, 415


Even worse, it seemed that the best interests of the state require that individuals "know their place."
Quote:
Think, now, and say whether you agree with me or not. Suppose a carpenter to be doing the business of a cobbler, or a cobbler of a carpenter; and suppose them to exchange their implements or their duties, or the same person to be doing the work of both, or whatever be the change; do you think that any great harm would result to the State?
Not much.
But when the cobbler or any other man whom nature designed to be a trader, having his heart lifted up by wealth or strength or the number of his followers, or any like advantage, attempts to force his way into the class of warriors, or a warrior into that of legislators and guardians, for which he is unfitted, and either to take the implements or the duties of the other; or when one man is trader, legislator, and warrior all in one, then I think you will agree with me in saying that this interchange and this meddling of one with another is the ruin of the State.
Most true.
Seeing then, I said, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?
Precisely.
And the greatest degree of evil-doing to one's own city would be termed by you injustice?
Certainly.
This then is injustice; and on the other hand when the trader, the auxiliary, and the guardian each do their own business, that is justice, and will make the city just.
-The Republic, 434


Am I being overly negative? Plato's Republic was required reading in both high school and college. I felt it was over-rated.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 4 • Views: 6,756 • Replies: 68
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Fido
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 04:11 pm
@wandeljw,
And a caste system...
0 Replies
 
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 04:16 pm
@wandeljw,
I agree; it's over-rated.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 04:31 pm
i'd be more inclined to use Lego or Mechano to propose a rigid class system, Play Doh is probably to malleable
0 Replies
 
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 05:19 pm
Yeah, a class system that was too inflexible by far. What's ironic is that such a system would not have been able to produce a Socrates, as his training was in stone-cutting and would not have been allowed to become a philosopher, much less a philosopher-king.

On the other hand, it does have its strong points, such as the equality of women and...and...and...Anyway, it does have its strong point.

I had to re-read it recently for a grad school class. Somebody, maybe the translator, was convinced that Plato relied heavily on irony and oblique allusion in the Republic, most of which is lost to us today. As a result, much that we take literally wasn't meant to be taken so. I dunno. That's just what he said.
0 Replies
 
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 05:37 pm
What I found most interesting is that it's required reading in your schools. It's not that way over here. It's really only people studying classics, or perhaps politics and philosophy that would have to study it. Even then we're really talking about higher education.

I think the reason for this was that republicanism was seen as a fairly new idea when America was first formed. By studying Plato you give republicanism a sense of history. Politics isn't really studied at all over here. It pops up in History and English, but by and large it's something you would opt to study post 16.
BillRM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 05:48 pm
@izzythepush,
Quote:
think the reason for this was that republicanism was seen as a fairly new idea when America was first formed


Sorry not true at all as most of the US founding fathers was very aware of the early Rome Republic and it history and when writing under pen names they more often then not took the names of famous Romans of that time period.

Edward Gibbon's Books on the subject of Rome was in most of their libraries.

And of course Plato books was also well known to them.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 06:08 pm
@wandeljw,
To assume that any society will be in harmony if the three classes of people lived as they should is untrue from the very nature of humans. In most cultures, military power was the driving force of society. They controlled the government and the people.

We can also look at our own form of government where the leaders have come from modest backgrounds. Many tyrannical leaders of today took over their government by force; not from being from royalty or from any leadership group or through legal elections.

I'm not sure how Plato's idea of some craftsmens who work with certain kinds of tools must perpetuate their craft through their children to maintain any sort of political harmony.
0 Replies
 
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 06:09 pm
@BillRM,
Sorry Bill, I'm not trying to make allegations about your founding fathers. This was an era in which the divine right of kings was believed throughout most of Europe. I'm just saying nascent republicanism was the exception and not the rule in 1776. The political systems in Europe were well established, republicanism wasn't.

Ok. Why do you think that Plato's Republic is studied in schools in America, but barely gets a mention in the UK?
BillRM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 06:28 pm
@izzythepush,
Quote:
Ok. Why do you think that Plato's Republic is studied in schools in America, but barely gets a mention in the UK?


I never study Plato Republic in school and read if only once in my late teens and 40 plus years later sadly do not remember any of it.

Guess I should download it from Guenberg and reread it.

I do remember that the Paine Book "The Age of Reason" was never brought up during my public school education in the US or Jefferson edited version of the Bible and I had aways assume that was due to the wish to sell US students on the idea that the founders the to man were all deeply religion.

izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 06:41 pm
@BillRM,
I'm a bit confused here. From the beginning of the thread I was lead to believe it was a set text. You do seem to be far more familiar with it as a nation than we are though.

I've read Paine's Right's of Man, and Common Sense, but that's only because I did American Studies at Uni. By the way, the town of Lewes about fifty miles down the road from me, issues banknotes with Thomas Paine's face on them. These can only be used in the town of Lewes.
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 07:12 pm
@izzythepush,
Maybe I gave a false impression. Specific teachers that I had in high school and college asked us to read Plato's Republic. It may have been the teachers themselves rather than the school system.
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 07:15 pm
@wandeljw,
Thank you. There are real differences in the way we do things each side of the pond. One thing that interests me is the pledge of allegience. Is it something that has to be done every day at school?
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  2  
Reply Sun 8 May, 2011 07:23 pm
Plato's Republic was probably more supportive of monarchies than democracies. Plato's ruling class seemed to be privileged. Plato's focus on having wise philosophers as rulers was probably the wrong focus. We can assume that many rulers will be mediocre or just plain bad. An ideal system of government would construct institutions that allow a society to survive a bad ruler.
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 May, 2011 01:19 am
@wandeljw,
Isn't the main problem in all of this human nature. People don't always act in a logical manner. Over here we've just had a referendum on AV. This is a question about our constitution, and should be looked at objectively. That's not what happened. The main beneficiaries of AV would be the Liberal Democrats, they abandoned, and broke most of their election promises to enter in a coalition with the Conservatives. All of the 'No to AV' campaign literature had picture of Nick Clegg the Liberal Democrat leader. So people voted No to AV not because they thought the constitutioal change was a bad idea, but because the wanted to punish Nick Clegg
0 Replies
 
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 May, 2011 02:51 am
I wasn't trolling about the pledge of allegiance. It's something I'm really interest. Over here the only people who have to pledge an oath are members of the armed forces, and immigrants taking the citizenship test, and that's a really recent development. Having taught in English schools I can't see a situation where it would be at all possible to get our teenagers to pledge allegience to anything.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 May, 2011 03:01 am
@wandeljw,
I have read, in more than one source, that Plato based his republic on the Laconic state commonly known as Sparta. It (Sparta) was a slave state, and a right paranoid one, too. I agree with you that Plato's republic was less than admirable.
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 May, 2011 05:24 am
@izzythepush,
izzythepush wrote:

I wasn't trolling about the pledge of allegiance. It's something I'm really interest. Over here the only people who have to pledge an oath are members of the armed forces, and immigrants taking the citizenship test, and that's a really recent development. Having taught in English schools I can't see a situation where it would be at all possible to get our teenagers to pledge allegience to anything.


In the 1960's, I was required to recite the pledge of allegiance in elementary school only. I don't believe it is required in later schooling.
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 May, 2011 05:26 am
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

I have read, in more than one source, that Plato based his republic on the Laconic state commonly known as Sparta. It (Sparta) was a slave state, and a right paranoid one, too. I agree with you that Plato's republic was less than admirable.


Plato seems to have admired Sparta and possibly had a grudge against Athenian democracy. His uncles were part of the oligarchy overthrown to make way for democracy.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 May, 2011 05:35 am
@wandeljw,
I wouldn't be too quick to attribute democratic virtue to Athens, however. Slavery was the disease of the ancient world, and it existed in Attica, too. Less than 10% of adult Attic males were eligible to vote--slaves, "foreigners" and those who were not freeholders within Athens could not vote. So, for example, you could be a successful famer in Attica, the descendant of generations of successful farmers in Attica, but if you did not own property within the city, you could not vote. That despite the fact that the city determined policy for the entire state. Attica was the territory within which Athens was located.
 

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